The 25 new officers – which include former court deputies and correctional officers promoted in accordance with rules governed by the Shakman Decree – began physical training on Monday, September 26th. The class also includes 23 cadets being trained by sheriff’s staff to become officers with suburban agencies.
The Sheriff’s police department has had its ranks depleted by retirements and leaves of absence due to military duty, among other factors. Since the last cadets were sworn in three years ago, the department is down nearly 50 police officers, with around 400 on staff. Budget cuts that have not allowed for any of those positions to be filled, even as more suburban departments turn to sheriff’s officers to carry out basic duties which those departments once performed. Though sheriff’s police patrol officers are responsible for serving and protecting unincorporated areas spread out across Cook County, the sheriff’s office provides the only gang, narcotics, vice, child exploitation and bomb units in all of the suburbs.
The sheriff’s police department also serves as the only evidence technicians for 41 suburbs who have eliminated their own. That comes five years after Sheriff Thomas J. Dart was forced to shift existing police officers to take over all policing responsibilities in Ford Heights, which was unable to pay for its own police force.
Sheriff Dart has petitioned county officials for additional funds to address the shrinking police staff and increased demand for services, but has been unable to secure the funds needed to fill vacant police positions. Recognizing that those shortages were beginning to impact the department’s ability to provide services to residents, Sheriff Dart developed a plan to offer existing sworn officers the chance to bid into 25 vacancies. The entire process was overseen by a compliance administrator, appointed as part of the Shakman Decree. That federal court order prohibits politics from influencing any personnel actions and earlier this year, the sheriff’s office became the first and only office in city or county government to be found fully compliant.