About the Candidate
Name: Thomas J. Dart
Occupation: County Clerk Sheriff
Political Experience: Cook County Sheriff, State Legislator, Assistant State’s Attorney
Hi, I’m Sheriff Tom Dart, sheriff of Cook County. I want to talk to you just very briefly today about the many things I’ve been working on the past few years. There’s been many, many challenges. And I like to think that every time we’ve had a challenge, we’ve confronted it.
We started off getting politics out of the Sheriff’s office. We were the first governmental entity to be found in compliance with the Shakman Decree, meaning you are promoted or you’re hired based on your work, nothing more, nothing less. We got out of a 40-year consent decree that had been costing the taxpayers millions of dollars. And we didn’t just shoot for getting the minimums. We became the best, the model jail for the country.
Right now we run programs that people come from all over the country to look at whether it’s our mental health programming, our substance abuse programs, our educational programs. The whole thought is to work with people when they come into our custody, identify issues and get them back to the community with skill sets they may not have had.
We’ve added policing in the Austin community, when they had a violent uptick, we put an office there. Downtown Chicago, we now operate an office there as well. We also have teams working on carjackings and we’ll continue to do that.
We also have taken on one of the most vexing problems of law enforcement, and that is law enforcement dealing with the mentally ill. We have put together a co-responder program where we have a mental health professional online with our officers.
I have so many more things we wanna work on and I would really, really appreciate your support in the coming election so that we can tackle more of the issues that are facing us.
Thank you so much.
Why are you running?
I’m seeking re-election because I care deeply about the people of this county and their safety. In my time in Office we have thoughtfully expanded Sheriff’s Police to become a key player in combating violence in the Chicago region while also reforming the Cook County Jail into a national model for addressing mental illness, substance abuse and joblessness.
I believe we can improve our criminal justice system to help improve our communities while also keeping them safe. That is why I’m focused on expanding access to mental health treatment and increasing training for police officers while giving them the tools they need to address crime, such as the new co-responder program we developed.
What does this office do well, and what needs fixing?
The Sheriff’s Office has become a national leader on multiple fronts, from the jail, to how evictions are handled, to its police force. I have worked closely with research institutions to ensure our jail and police programs are effective and I have reached out to all sides of today’s pressing issues to develop unique and innovative solutions. That work includes a mental health co-responder program that is being adopted by multiple suburbs and cities. It also includes addressing Chicago’s carjacking surge by working with automakers to improve tracking capabilities.
I commit to this kind of thoughtful approach as we continue to tackle the longstanding failures of our criminal justice system.
What is the most pressing issue facing your constituents and how do you plan on addressing it?
We desperately need our criminal justice system to work in a way that keeps violent offenders off the streets while also providing opportunities for individuals to improve their lives. Our justice system is most often dealing with the multiple shortcomings of our society, whether it is our mental health care system, schools, or other social inequities. That is why I have brought clinicians in to work alongside police to address mental health cases and help individuals find treatment and stick with it.
It is also why I have invested heavily in treatment, education, and job-training programs in the jail, because the vast majority of those individuals will eventually be returning home. Today we also have more Sheriff’s Police than at any time in its history and they are focused on addressing violence in key Chicago neighborhoods while also supporting suburban police agencies.
What specific steps would you take to ensure your office is accessible and responsive to your constituents?
The Sheriff’s Office interacts with thousands of members of the public every day, from serving court papers, to responding to 911 calls to security in our courthouses. At every point we have been re-thinking and refining that interaction to ensure we are meeting everyone’s needs and taking advantage of opportunities.
The most recent expansion of this is our police mental health co-responder program, but we have also worked to improve visitation at the jail and expand community-focused programing, among other effective initiatives. One recent example is our taillight repair program. Instead of pulling people over and writing costly tickets for broken taillights, our officers can hand out vouchers to attend an event where our office will fix those taillights for free. The program takes what could have been a negative interaction with law enforcement and turns it into a positive one that still makes our roads safer. Transparency is also paramount.
Too much of our criminal justice system is cloaked in secrecy, sowing mistrust in our communities. My office works hard to provide valuable and insightful information online so the public doesn’t have to ask for it and it also provides torrents of data and documents to the public and research institutions studying our criminal justice system.