Cook County Sheriff Department activity increasing

Sheriff Mark Falk presented his 2014 budget requests to the county board on August 13, 2013, and they reflect some increases in activity at the Cook County Law Enforcement Center.
The sheriff’s budget includes several different departments—sheriff, county jail, Search & Rescue, coroner, dispatch, radio communications, and emergency management.  Sheriff Falk actually anticipated a decrease in his Sheriff’s Department budget—from $1,872,892 to $1,825,579.  He requested an increase in the county jail budget, however.
Some of the cost increases reflect technological upgrades, such as professional services related to electronic traffic tickets in which data from a squad car is transmitted directly to the state.  Sheriff Falk pointed out that ticket fees do not provide direct revenue to the department—some of the money goes to the state.  “We don’t have quotas,” he said.  Writing more tickets “is not the direction we want to go.”
Some money is being budgeted for equipment and training for the Search & Rescue Department.  Sheriff Falk said he wanted to purchase two canoes so that Search and Rescue volunteers would not have to use their own.  He said he put some training money into next year’s budget to help them get more organized and become more self-sufficient.
The coroner’s budget varies from year to year.  Expenses could be $5,000 one year and $17,000 the next, Sheriff Falk said. 
Sheriff Falk is proposing a budget increase for the county jail from $227,994 in 2013 to $250,568 in 2014.  The county has had a large increase in the number of incarcerations it is responsible for funding.  The county spent $101,219 on inmate costs such as meals, medical services, and laundry in 2012 but has already spent $125,000 on those costs in 2013, while only $110,000 was budgeted.  The sheriff is proposing to increase that budget line item to $125,000 for 2014 but said he was “nervous” about whether that would be enough.
Sheriff Falk said he would like to add another dispatcher/jailer to the staff so that two could be on duty during daytime hours.  Serving meals, dispensing medications, and checking on inmates at least once every half hour as required by the state gets difficult when jailers are also answering 911 calls.  “It’s getting very busy,” he said, “and it’s a lot of work for one person to do.”  He endorsed the practice of checking on inmates regularly to ensure their wellbeing.  Sometimes they are a few minutes late when they are busy, however, and that is a violation of licensing rules.
Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk, who used to be a dispatcher/jailer, concurred, saying that the people in this position have numerous screens to monitor while watching over inmates, taking phone calls and dealing with people who come into the building.
When they have an average daily population of five inmates, Sheriff Falk said, they must have two jailers.  The average daily population is 4.9 so far this year and he thinks that number will be over five by the end of December.  The county had 14 in custody that day, with nine of them in the local jail over the weekend.  They have booked 110 people so far this year.  “It’s just been a very busy year for us,” Sheriff Falk said.  He said jail costs would be “way over budget.”
The sheriff recommended that the county consider becoming a one-year facility so that inmates could remain here beyond 72 hours.  He said, “It’s something I think this county really needs to start looking at seriously.”  This would save the cost of transferring inmates to other facilities and back to Cook County for court and would keep dollars in the county.  Sheriff Falk pointed out that the transfer distance for Cook County inmates to longer-term facilities is probably the longest in the state.  They often need to transfer inmates to Aitken, bypassing St. Louis and Carlton counties because their facilities are full.
To become a one-year facility, the Law Enforcement Center would need to add about 1.5 staff members, add some programming, and have exercise space available.  Sheriff Falk said he thinks they currently have enough space to make this happen.  They could house up to 15 inmates but only 10 on a long-term basis. 
Commissioner Bruce Martinson said the county is limited to a 3 percent levy increase for 2014.  If all departmental budget requests were granted, they would need to increase their budget by 9 percent and dip into the county’s general fund.
“I’m a taxpayer here too, just like all of us,” said Sheriff Falk, “and I’ve got concerns about taxes going up.”  He said they need more staff, however.  “The need was yesterday.”