Area police officials: Courthouse closures just shift burden
Updated: February 13, 2012 8:07AM
The pending closure of suburban courthouses on Saturdays has police chiefs concerned about time and resources the decision will cost their departments.
Michael Alsup, president of the North Suburban Association of Police Chiefs, said the organization’s membership directed him Jan. 5 to ask Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans to reconsider the closures, which will require police officers from more than 120 suburban municipalities to transport arrestees to the Cook County Courthouse at 26th Street and California Avenue in Chicago for weekend bond hearings.
Now, Saturday bond hearings for individuals arrested by law enforcement in northern Cook County are held at the Second Municipal District Courthouse in Skokie and at the Third Municipal District Courthouse in Rolling Meadows, depending on the location of the alleged crime. But these suburban county courts, as well as three others, are slated to close on weekends as part of a cost-savings plan announced by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s Office last month.
The closures are expected to save the county about $2 million, according to Preckwinkle’s staff.
But Alsup, who also serves as chief of police of Harper College in Palatine, says the measure will just mean additional costs for suburban police departments.
“She didn’t save anybody anything,” Alsup said of Preckwinkle. “She just shifted the burden from the county to the 128 municipalities.”
Alsup said most suburban departments do not have the vehicles or staff to transport prisoners long distances and many are operating with fewer officers on the street and minimal overtime due to their own budgetary difficulties.
“Our officers belong in our communities protecting our citizens, the people who are paying for them,” Alsup said. “They don’t belong down at 26th and California.”
Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski, who attended the Jan. 5 meeting of the North Suburban Association of Police Chiefs, said impacts will differ depending on the municipality, but for Park Ridge, the closure of the Skokie Courthouse on Saturdays will mean taking at least two officers off the street for several hours if bond hearings are required.
“You could have officers tied up all day if you have to have officers go down to 26th and California,” Kaminski said.
Holding all Saturday bond hearings in one location for the entire county, including the city of Chicago, will mean lengthy waits before a judge is seen, both Alsup and Kaminski predict.
“Look at all the police departments that are in suburban Cook County,” Kaminski said. “If everyone has to go to one place, the sheer volume will create a delay and you could have officers tied up for some time.”
Kaminski would not say whether the department plans to pay overtime or have additional officers on duty during these times.
Preckwinkle spokeswoman Liane Jackson said an average of 87 defendants appear before judges at the five suburban courthouses on Saturdays.
Bond court at 26th and California now processes only defendants arrested in Chicago, said Cook County sheriff’s spokesman Frank Bilecki. A judge can see anywhere from 150 to 350 defendants on a single weekend day in bond court, he said.
Kaminski estimates Park Ridge police officers transport arrestees to Skokie for Saturday bond hearings at least three Saturdays each month. Those arrested between Saturday and Sunday night may often wait until Monday before appearing in court in Skokie, which is 7 miles from Uptown Park Ridge. The Chicago courthouse is 19 miles away.
Not everyone arrested in Park Ridge requires a bond hearing in order to be released from police custody. Many people arrested for misdemeanor crimes can bond out at the Park Ridge Police Station, usually by paying 10 percent of a $1,000 I-Bond. All felony offenses require that the arrestee appear before a judge and individuals with active warrants or criminal histories will also be required to attend a bond hearing, said Park Ridge Police Cmdr. David Keller.
It is not yet known when the Saturday closures will take effect at the Skokie courthouse.
Kaminski said a compromise could involve keeping the Cook County courthouse in Maywood open for bond hearings on Saturday.
“Maybe there are some middle-road positions that are more acceptable, like Maywood, which is probably closer for most of the north suburban jurisdictions,” he said.
Alsup suggested that the Cook County Sheriff’s Department pick up and transport arrestees to 26th and California bond hearings, as the department has a prisoner-transport vehicle.
Both Kaminski and Alsup said police departments should have been made aware earlier of the plan to close the courthouses so police chiefs could have made their opinions known before any decisions were made.
Collectively, the associations of police chiefs for Northern, Western and Southern Cook County are opposing the courthouse closures because of the potential impact on their operations, Kaminski added.
Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri, whose district includes Park Ridge, told Pioneer Press that he supported the county’s decision to close courthouses on Saturdays. He said he an other members of the Cook County Board were looking at the best ways to balance the county’s budget in a creative way and closing the courthouses on weekends was one way to help do that.
“The goal was to make the least impact on the general public,” Silvestri said.
— Sun-Times Media and
Staff Writer David Pollard
contributed to this story.