Weekend court closings will impact suburban police

January 5, 2012 3:12:49 PM PST
People accused of crimes during weekends in suburban Cook County will soon have to be taken to court in Chicago for bond hearings.

This weekend, the county will begin closing weekend court sessions in the suburbs to save money. It begins Saturday with the weekend closure of the courthouse in Bridgeview.

The move is being met with criticism by those whose workloads are going to increase dramatically -- suburban police forces that will have to spend time, money and gas to get their prisoners to county court at 26th and California.

From the air it is easy to see why the Cook County court and jailhouse complex at 26th and California in Chicago is one of the biggest institutions of its kind in the world. Now it will house the county's only weekend bond court, as Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle reaches for a savings of $1.9 million by closing suburban courts.

"We spend a huge amount of the county's budget on public safety, so I think that year after year we have to think about making some of the tough decisions," said Juliana Stratton, Cook County Judicial Advisory Council executive director.

It is argued that the five suburban courthouses -- Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Maywood, Markham and Bridgeview -- don't see enough activity to justify staffing each with 13 people, including a judge and lawyers, through the weekend.

Bridgeview court, which serves the South and Southwest sides, closes first.

"We are hoping that municipalities will come together and try to work collaboratively amongst themselves to see how they might join together to address some of their issues," Stratton said.

County officials say Preckwinkle consulted with the offices of the state's attorney and the sheriff before making the decision.

Cook County Chief Justice Timothy Evans conveyed word of the change in a letter to suburban police chiefs on December 13. The three police chiefs represent their colleagues in the north, west and south suburbs.

"It is just thrusting this upon us, no conversation, great surprise," said Harper College Police Chief Mike Alsup.

"Weekends and holidays will definitely impact our agencies on overtime costs and officer safety due to the fact that we'll be transporting prisoners a longer distance," said Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel.

And for South Chicago Heights Police Chief Bill Joyce, whose jurisdiction takes in a range of small communities, having to transport offenders to bond court downtown could subvert justice.

"For some of the minor offenses, I-bonds are issued, individual recognizance bond," said Joyce. "An I-bond is a no-cash situation, and the bad guy, usually if he doesn't have to pay cash, he doesn't come to court, so the process repeats itself, because next thing you know, you've got a warrant and you have to go get him hold him and transport him again."

Ninth District County Commissioner Peter Silvestri is planning on introducing a resolution at the next county meeting demanding Judge Evans explain why he backs this plan. That meeting is January 18.