Lake County prosecutors expanding violent crimes unit to address surge in cases
The Lake County state's attorney's office will expand its Violent Crimes Unit using federal grant money authorized by the county board this week.
The funding through the American Rescue Plan Act will allow the office to add two attorneys and a victim-witness counselor to the unit.
"We felt (State's Attorney Eric Rinehart) needed additional resources to deal with this recent surge (in crime) within the pandemic," county board Chair Sandy Hart said. "We have asked him to look for other efficiencies in the office, but we also felt that emergency ARPA funding could be used now for a vital community need."
The unit was created to change the way the office prosecutes violent crimes, by freeing up certain attorneys from other work so they can stay with a case from "day one" until there is a plea agreement or verdict. Rinehart refers to the approach as vertical prosecution.
"This model has been used in our sex crimes unit for years, but I have been expanding it to violent crimes," Rinehart said. "This allows the same attorneys and counselors to be working with survivors immediately."
When the Violent Crime Unit launched in April, Rinehart said one of its goals is to improve communication between prosecutors and victims and their families. The new victim-witness counselor will be essential to those efforts.
"For the first time ever, we will be assigning a victim-witness counselor immediately to cases involving a homicide or great bodily harm," Rinehart said. "Victims may need help immediately, even when a police investigation is still open."
The efforts will increase the office's compliance with the Illinois Victim's Bill of Rights, which include the rights to be treated fairly and to be notified of court proceedings in a timely manner, Rinehart said.
The funding is expected to be available next month, and Rinehart said he will staff the unit as quickly as possible.