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Cook County sheriff wants chief judge to take over electronic monitoring of suspects, citing the records of those released

Thursday, October 31, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by Megan Crepeau

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says the chief judge should take over the electronic monitoring of defendants since the courts decide who gets released on ankle bracelets.

In a letter this month to Chief Judge Timothy Evans, Dart cited the wave of “high risk” suspects released on electronic monitoring since Evans initiated bond reform measures in 2017.

“In large part, the Circuit Court orders EM as a safety net for individuals charged with violent and gun-related offenses, who often have long rap sheets and a history of skipping court,” Dart wrote in his Oct. 3 letter, obtained by the Tribune. "There is no mechanism or process ... to balance the court’s orders with the capacities of the sheriff’s electronic monitoring program.”

Dart proposed the monitoring program be combined with a similar pretrial release program already operated by Evans’ office. Combining the two programs makes sense, both financially and for public safety, Dart wrote. He added that he was willing to transfer staff and resources to Evans’ office during a changeover.

“Unlike the sheriff, the judiciary can modify the systemwide conditions of pre-trial release and therefore manage a better program for high-risk offenders,” Dart reasoned. "The judiciary can ensure the resources match the population.”

Sheriff spokesman Joseph Ryan emphasized that Dart’s office has little control over who it has to monitor, saying that right now “we’re just the custodian.”

“You need a direct line between the agency that’s deciding who goes on electronic monitoring … and the entity that is doing that work,” he said.

Ryan said the sheriff’s office had not yet received a response from Evans. Efforts to reach Evans’ representatives for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

A spokesman for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle expressed support for a consolidated system, saying she “welcomes the opportunity to assist Chief Judge Evans and the Cook County Court system in running an expanded and more responsive electronic monitoring program that supports rehabilitation and reentry.”

The population of defendants on electronic monitoring changed significantly after Evans signed an order in 2017 directing judges to assign affordable bonds — an effort to prevent poor, nonviolent defendants from lingering in jail because they could not afford to post bail.

The jail population has since decreased significantly. But the proportion of defendants on the sheriff’s electronic monitoring who are charged with gun crimes and violent offenses has increased, significantly straining the sheriff’s resources, Dart has said.

As of Wednesday, there were 2,243 people on electronic monitoring. The most common charges they face are aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. More than 50 people on electronic monitoring face murder or attempted murder charges, according to data from the sheriff’s office.

In a controversial move in early 2018, Dart blocked the release of about 55 suspects who had been ordered released on electronic monitoring because he deemed them too high-risk.

Under fire from county officials, Dart’s office quietly halted the policy. Every suspect who had a place to stay was released on monitoring.

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