Tom Dart: 2022 candidate for Cook County Sheriff
Occupation: Cook County Sheriff
Previous offices held: State Representative
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
A: These are very difficult and turbulent times and 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 Chicago and the suburbs 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 strengthen our communities while keeping them safe. That is why I'm focused on expanding access to mental health treatment and improving training for police officers while giving them the tools they need to address crime, such as the new co-responder program we developed. Although much has been accomplished, there is much more to do.
Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
A: With Sheriff's Police, I prioritized training, created units to address gun crimes and human trafficking and collaborated with area agencies to combat crime, including carjacking. Today we have more police officers than at any point in the history of the Office. We started a co-responder program that pairs mental health clinicians with officers, a model that is expanding to numerous suburbs. I'm proud to have led the jail out from under 40 years of federal oversight to becoming a national leader in providing mental health, employment and education support. Today wardens from across the world come to the jail and view it as a model. Throughout the Office I've strived to innovate new ways to tackle entrenched problems. For example in evictions, I hired social workers to help families find housing instead of throwing them on the street. Whether it is violence or poverty, the challenges we face are significant. I will always be looking at how the Office can better tackle those challenges.
Q: Describe your position regarding the allocation of resources in the sheriff's office. Are personnel allocated as they should be? Are there capital expense or other budgetary items that the office must address, and, if so, how do you propose to address them?
A: We must constantly ask ourselves if we are using taxpayer dollars in the most judicious way to have the biggest impact for the residents of Cook County. In Office, I have prioritized public safety in all of our spending. We have dedicated funds to hire more police officers while also investing in proven social service programs that help reduce crime through job-training, education, mental health and substance use programs. I'm particularly proud that these investments have increased our ability to confront crime in Chicago and support suburban police agencies that have been stretched thin. I'm also proud that our mental health co-responder program is expanding to numerous suburbs in the county, covering more than 250,000 residents and growing.
Q: There's been a concerted effort within the county's criminal justice system to incarcerate fewer pretrial defendants in the county jail. Some, particularly in the suburbs, blame this for a rise in crime. Do you support these policies? If not, what would you suggest instead?
A: Our justice system requires constant analyses and modification. Today far too many people facing violent charges are being released into our communities. I've been raising alarms about this for years. I will continue to draw attention to it while prioritizing public safety. There was a time when there were too many nonviolent individuals -- most struggling with mental illness -- in custody, needlessly costing taxpayers and making it harder for people to turn their lives around. That is no longer the case. Now there are more than 1,000 people court ordered to electronic monitoring in the community who face violent charges, including more than 100 facing murder or attempt murder charges. That is wrong. We must have a justice system that doesn't unnecessarily lock up individuals on low-level charges -- crowding the jail and draining resources -- but keeps the public safe by getting violent offenders off the streets. This is attainable. We can't have a revolving door for violent offenders.
Q: In July 2020, the county board passed a resolution that called for, in part, the county to "redirect funds from policing and incarceration to public services not administered by law enforcement." Did or do you support this measure and the philosophy behind it? Why or why not?
A: The movement to defund police departments is wrong. Further depleting the resources of law enforcement will only serve to ensure that these critical agencies will not have the resources needed to hire police officers, properly train officers or to provide much-needed victim support. At the same time, I have always been a strong advocate for investing more in communities that have historically faced disinvestment, particularly when it comes to education, job-training and mental health care. When the City of Chicago shuttered half of its mental health clinics, I worked to re-open one of those facilities to help people who could no longer find the services they needed. I also boosted such programming for those in custody, starting our landmark Mental Health Treatment Center at the jail. Most recently, I invested heavily in a new co-responder program that pairs mental health clinicians with Sheriff's Police to de-escalate dangerous situations and help people find effective treatment.
Q: What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate for this office?
A: I'm proud of my record and I believe it speaks for itself. I've clearly shown what my priorities are, whether that is becoming the first county agency released from patronage hiring oversight, or investing heavily to expand and train our police or reforming the jail. I've pushed aside the political rhetoric and not jumped at the quick fix. I've focused on the people we can help, whether they are victims, people struggling with mental illness or families facing eviction. I've looked at how we can do better for them, examined what the research tells us and pushed to do what I believe the people want. I've ensured Sheriff's Police are confronting the violent crime on our streets and I've brought in social workers to work with victims and people who want to better themselves. As a county, we are going to face unexpected challenges over the next four years and I believe I have the experience and track record to ensure the Sheriff's Office will be an agency tackling those challenges.