Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has offered to help local police chiefs review whether or not an officer should have opened fire.
The move is in response to an investigation by WBEZ and the Better Government Association that found not a single officer was disciplined, fired, or criminally charged in more than 113 police shootings in suburban Cook County since 2005.
Illinois State Police reviewed each case to see if the officer broke the law, but almost none of the shootings were reviewed by local police chiefs to see if procedure was followed.
Patrick Smith from WBEZ and Casey Toner from the BGA sat down with Dart on Thursday to discuss his new plan to help.
On the letter Dart sent to police chiefs in suburban Cook County
Tom Dart: The gist of the letter is to say that in the event that you have an incident where an officer fires his weapon — because of just the realities of the real world, which is that a lot of departments just don’t have a lot of revenue — that we have the capacity and expertise to help with the non-criminal aspect.
On the number of under-investigated police shootings
Dart: It would be one thing if you had a hundred-and-some incidents and were parsing over whether or not 20 should have been sent to training as opposed to 30. But when you literally have nothing, that’s a bit of a problem. We’re there to help those entities that do not have the capacity to do it themselves.
On why it’s important that policy reviews are done
Dart: So much of it is the public trust and the public buy-in that we’re all in this together. None of us have anything to hide, and we are trying really hard. One of the ways to (gain public trust) is to make sure people feel comfortable in how we review incidents that don’t go the way you want. ... We’re all in this together. We’re not perfect, but when bad things happen, we’re not covering it up for anybody. We’re going right at it.
On how the Cook County Sheriff’s office can help suburban police chiefs
Dart: I don’t want to say we’re making this up as we go along, but there is a lot where we’d really just want to hear from them. The actual model itself: At the heart of it would be the examination of what exactly the rules are for that department. And then there would be the evaluation of the conduct. And, with that, then there would be recommendations to that department.
If it is, for example, more training, then we have a training academy. We do use the force-training academy all the time. If they don’t have that capacity, we could work with them. … I don’t want to say we could be a full-service type of entity, but we could do a lot of this.
On whether or not suburban police chiefs will take advantage of the offer
Dart: I honestly don’t know.
On whether or not the departments most in need will also be most resistant to accepting help
Dart: Oh, God yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Some of the very entities that need it the most are going to take no advantage of this whatsoever. And if that is the case, then we can’t just stop. We can’t just say, “Oh well, we tried, on to our next thing.” We have to come up with something else.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire segment.