Really Bad Judgment

DuPage County Board members rip sheriff for letting teenage son play cop, go on ride-alongs with on-duty deputies.

DuPage County Board members are calling on Sheriff John Zaruba to suspend his controversial ride-along program following an investigation by the Better Government Association and CBS2.

The investigation revealed that Zaruba’s teenage son had gone on dozens of ride-alongs with on-duty sheriff’s officers in recent years. While on those patrols he dressed like a cop and participated in car and foot chases.

In one instance, captured by a squad car’s dashboard camera, Patrick Zaruba, now 19 and a student at Illinois State University, chased a teenager who got out of his car and ran during an April 2011 traffic stop in Woodridge. Patrick Zaruba was 18 and a high school senior at the time.

"We will make it clear to the sheriff that this has to stop," DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin says. What happened is "disturbing and bad judgment. It’s really bad judgment."

Because John Zaruba is an elected official, the County Board doesn’t control what goes on in his office. Board members approve his annual budget but don’t have a say in personnel or policy decisions, for example.

Nonetheless, Cronin says he will demand that John Zaruba suspend the program until a review is completed. Legal observers told BGA/CBS2 that most law enforcement agencies have ride-along guidelines that prohibit guests from participating in law enforcement action. The DuPage sheriff’s office apparently has no such rule.

"Up until now the County Board had no reason to look at the [sheriff’s ride-along] policy," says DuPage County Board member Paul Fichtner. "But we need to take a look at what that policy is and encourage the sheriff to write one that limits the county’s liability."

This story was written and reported by Andrew Schroedter of the BGA and Pam Zekman of CBS2. To contact them, call (312) 821-9035 or email aschroedter@bettergov.org.