Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle met with representatives from the North, South, and West Suburban Police Chief associations Tuesday in a continued effort to solve the overcrowding problems in Cook County jail and to discuss the impact of city violence on suburban municipalities. Attendees included Chief James Keegan from Streamwood, Chief Michael Deegan from South Barrington, Chief Steven Stelter from Brookfield, Chief Thomas Weitzel from Riverside, Commander Walter Klimek from Bridgeview, Deputy Chief of Staff Kimberly Foxx, and Juliana Stratton Executive Director of the Justice Advisory Council.
Currently only 10% of inmates in the Cook County jail are actually serving a sentence, with 90% awaiting trial. Of the people housed at the jail, just 30% are accused of violent crimes and the other 70% are awaiting trial for nonviolent offenses such as theft and drug use. President Preckwinkle opened the meeting with these statistics, as a way to introduce the County’s need to lower the number of pre-trial detainees and invest in community-based alternatives to detention.
All five police chiefs agreed that violence originating in the city of Chicago has been spilling into the suburbs. Commander Klimek, Chief Weitzel, and Chief Stelter have all seen increased gang and drug activity, including several deaths due to drug overdose, and a recent violent homicide as a result of gang activity. Chief Deegan of South Barrington, though a very upscale neighborhood, has seen a spike in retail theft. Chief Keegan reported attack mob activity and increased violence in his neighborhoods. Commander Klimek also reported an increase in clandestine drug labs.
President Preckwinkle and the police chiefs agreed that more drug treatment and mental health alternatives must be made available for those charged with nonviolent offenses, in order to not only lower our jail population, but also help end recidivism (currently about 52% of those detained at the jail return to the jail within three years). The meeting adjourned with plans to meet again, this time with Sheriff Thomas Dart and the Department of Homeland Security, to explore the creation of a multi-district task force on drugs.