Teamsters Local 700, Cook County’s largest public employee union, has learned the Sheriff’s Office has enlisted college-age interns to oversee a critical new study on manpower shortages facing the department.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has initiated the study in direct response to a grievance filed July 3 by the Teamsters to address the dangerous and longstanding reality of understaffing.
Local 700 represents more than 1,000 Cook County Court Services Deputies who are responsible for securing courthouses, processing arrests and serving warrants, summons, levies and evictions. The number of Deputies working in units across Cook County has remained in steady decline for several years.
Sheriff Dart has allowed the number of Court Services Deputies to shrink by approximately 500 officers since 2010, while the number of locations and government buildings that need to be secured has remained the same.
“For years, the Teamsters have pressed the Sheriff to restore adequate levels of manpower to our courts and county facilities. Rampant understaffing puts the safety of our members and the public at risk,” said Becky Strzechowski, President of Teamsters Local 700. “This issue has escalated to the point that Court Services Deputies are being denied accrued benefit time because staffing numbers are so low.”
According to a study from the National Center for State Courts, staffing guidelines recommend two Court Services Deputies be assigned to a courtroom during any proceeding. In Cook County, the severe lack of manpower has led to individual Deputies being responsible for securing multiple courtrooms at any given time.
Sources within the Sheriff’s Department have indicated that a team of interns with no law enforcement experience is conducting the new manpower study at county facilities. The interns are gaining access to highly secured areas like lock-ups, which are restricted for authorized personnel only.
“One would hope a study of this size and importance is being conducted by qualified professionals with law enforcement experience who can understand the overwhelming demands placed on these Deputies,” said Strzechowski. “If Sheriff Dart is moving forward with this study, it’s about time. But it needs to be done the right way.”
Teamsters Local 700 urges the Sheriff’s Department to make its findings public once a study has been completed.