Opponents of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart Try to Stay on Vote

Amid an era of growing concern over violence, opponents of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, in his bid for re-election, are trying to paint him to voters as a long-term, soft-spoken crime boss. – but most of them need to get back to the polls first.

The Democrats Who Launched Campaigns for Sheriff are using the crime issue to hammer Dart and argue they can go further in reversing recent trends that last year saw Cook County have its highest number of firearm homicides since the 1990s, according to the county coroner’s office.

However, two of the three candidates were removed as candidates in last-minute court rulings, including one on Wednesday.

The argument over who’s on and off the ballot has become a centerpiece of the sheriff’s race, in large part because Dart led the charge in removing the names of his challengers from the ballot.

Dart maintains his maneuvers to disqualify rivals and said he has done what he can to fight shootings and other crimes in Cook County.

“We’ve done a very good job of dealing with the violent issues that are within our reach,” Dart said in an interview with the Tribune.

he noticed that added a new police command post downtown and continues to keep officers patrolling in the Austin neighborhood, which he said had contained homicides in the neighborhood.

This is on top of what he said are the efforts he has pushed in and out of prison to address the underlying factors of crime through mental health and substance abuse programs, as well as employment support. For example, since 2019, some individuals found carrying or using drugs have been diverted from prison and sent to a sheriff’s treatment response team that offers recovery services.

Dart then joked, “Now my opponents might say, ‘Well, crime is on the rise in Indiana and should you be doing something about it?’ Yes, they can do that.”

A former state deputy who has been sheriff since 2006, Dart has the backing of the Cook County Democratic Party and much more campaign funds. Rushing to take you down on June 28 Chief among them are Carmen Navarro Gercone, executive secretary of court operations and administration in the office of the Cook County Court Clerk, who was previously Dart’s assistant executive director; Noland Rivera, a Chicago police sergeant whose wife was a Cook County corrections officer who died of COVID-19; and Dolton Police Officer LaTonya Ruffin, a former sheriff’s officer who sued Dart in 2011 after being fired for allegedly giving incorrect statements about failing to protect her service weapon.

Both Navarro Gercone and Ruffin were eliminated from the vote after being ruled ineligible to run under separate Illinois appeals court rulings over the past two weeks. Navarro Gercone’s campaign promised to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

Challenges came from Dart’s campaign, even as the incumbent kept a low profile in the months leading up to the primaries. His effort to disqualify Navarro Gercone using a little-known provision in the statewide criminal justice reform legislation passed last year, also known as the SAFE-T Act, has received more attention.

This provision requires Illinois sheriff candidates to be certified police officers or receive equivalent training from another state or federal agency. Navarro Gercone has never worked as a police officer, and the vast majority of sworn employees in Dart’s office are deputies, not police officers. officers.

“I was qualified enough to head the second largest department under Tom Dart’s administration,” Navarro Gercone said during a candidate forum that Dart did not attend. “But when it comes to running for sheriff, he simply didn’t want competition, and he thought I would give up.”

Dart, who said he didn’t know about the new requirement until the law was signed, scoffed at Navarro Gercone’s characterization of why he mounted a challenge against his candidacy.

“I certainly can’t go around choosing which laws we follow and which laws we don’t,” Dart said.

The sheriff’s office has a budget of $631.5 million and approximately 5,400 employees who work in various departments, including Cook County Jail, overseeing courthouse security or a division of the police department that patrols unincorporated areas and some municipalities.

But the sheriff’s electronic monitoring program – which takes up only 4% of his budget and has around 120 positions held — became a central issue of the campaign. As fears about the crime grew, the program that sends some defendants home with an ankle monitor to await their trials has become a third-rail political issue.

While electronic monitoring is handled by Dart’s office, Cook County judges make the decisions about which defendants participate. Originally designed to reduce overcrowding in one of the largest prisons in the country, the program has been criticized by Dart’s opponents – and Dart himself – for releasing many defendants on violent or gun-related charges, they say.

Dart maintained that he has no control over how the composition of his population has changed to include more individuals facing such charges following the 2017 county bail reforms, according to your office data.

“There definitely needs to be a complete overhaul of electronic monitoring,” Navarro Gercone told the Tribune, saying he will open more “talks” with the courts to do so. “Violent offenders will have no place in my administration’s electronic monitoring program. … This is something I am willing to fight for.”

Rivera agreed. He also promised to cut 300 high-level positions that he says are “redundant” to hire 3,000 grassroots staff to bolster the team that oversees electronic monitoring, among other departments under the sheriff. He waved to the 341 participants in the electronic monitoring that the sheriff is unable to locate as one of the reasons for this need.

Dart told them both, “I find this fascinating and interesting because it speaks to some people who are misinformed.”

He argued that his hands are tied because the County Board of Commissioners sets its budget, judges are the ones who do the electronic monitoring assignments, and he was sued in 2018 for briefly refusing to allow certain defendants to be released into the program.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice Timothy Evans responded to calls to stop allowing criminals accused of carrying guns to be monitored electronically, reminding critics that regardless of charge, pre-trial defendants are found not guilty. And since bail reform began, 3.4% of people accused of crimes who are released before their trials pick up a violent new charge while they are released, according to statistics from the late 2021 office of the chief judge.

About 28.4% of the sheriff’s electronic monitoring population was there because they were accused of a violent crime, data from the head judge show. In total, the sheriff’s office records that about 2,300 people are currently in the program, down from a peak of more than 3,600 last year.

Both Navarro Gercone and Ruffin say the Dart administration has a penchant for accumulating litigation and internal investigations that are costing taxpayers millions and point to deeper problems at the sheriff’s office.

They cited a class action lawsuit by more than 500 correctional officers alleging that the administration condoned aggressive sexual harassment of male inmates at the county jail, as well as a court ruling that the composition of the Sheriff’s Board of Merit, which is in charge of attending discipline was illegal. The last finding was followed by a former employee who was accused of misconduct, ultimately yielding a $5.6 million payout from the county.

“Nothing is being done; women don’t feel safe,” Ruffin said of the first lawsuit, to which Dart’s office responded by saying the government does everything possible to ensure a safe environment.

Rivera said these infighting grew out of Dart being what he said was an “absent sheriff.” But the longtime holder said he thinks he has a “very good relationship” with most of the employees.

“I would suggest to you objectively, I’m probably the most practical sheriff ever,” Dart said. “I am very happy with this job. I have no desire to run for anything else.”

Then there’s the ongoing joint investigation by Dart and the FBI into whether sheriff’s officials collected a county salary while working side jobs or not, as first reported by the Tribune.

Dart told the Tribune that he discovered the alleged wrongdoing when a “handful” of employees appeared to take advantage of a break from using their fingerprints to mark their shifts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said he has proven his ethics are clean, waving his office to be the first to be deemed to comply with the Shakman ordinance, a court order that bans political sponsorship in government.

“I got them,” Dart said of employees being disciplined. “I was the one who was chasing it.”

[email protected]

Leave a Comment