Sheriff Offers Help in Probing Suburban Police Shootings

Prompted by BGA/WBEZ series, Tom Dart tells suburban chiefs that his office is available to conduct investigations into whether officers act properly in shooting incidents.

<p>Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart | Scott Olson/Getty Images</p>

Citing a “glaring hole” in how police shootings in the suburbs are investigated, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is offering to assist all suburban Cook County police departments to determine if officers violated policies or procedures when they shoot someone.

On Thursday, Dart said he sent a written proposal to all suburban Cook County police chiefs in a move prompted by a Better Government Association/WBEZ investigation that found few procedural investigations of the 113 shooting incidents involving suburban police in Cook County during the past 13 years.

Many of those shootings were questionable, but no case led to any officers being disciplined, retrained, or fired, the investigation found. Taxpayers also spent more than $12 million to settle lawsuits related to at least 25 of those shooting incidents.

Related Story: Taking Cover: How Cops Escape Discipline for Shootings in Suburban Chicago

State law currently mandates the Illinois State Police conduct an independent investigation of police shootings in the suburbs. But those investigations only examine whether police violated the law and do not analyze if policies, procedures or best practices were violated.

“Some of your departments have it absolutely covered, covered better than anybody could ask them to be covered,” Dart said. “Other ones, objectively, they don’t.”

If a suburban chief requests the sheriff’s assistance, Dart’s plan calls for employees of the Cook County Sheriff’s office to begin its investigation by examining use of force policies and recommend procedural changes and training.

Dart’s office provided a copy of the form letter it was distributing to police chiefs and the language was subdued.

"Today I reach out to specifically inform you that we can assist when it comes to the critical topic of officer-involved shootings," Dart wrote. "As you know, it is important that the public have trust in the systems we put in place to mitigate such incidents and investigate them when they do occur."

Dart said his office lacks the authority to demand that it be allowed to conduct such investigations, so his letter took the form of an offer of help.

Audio from the BGA/WBEZ interview with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

“Something like this is something that I think you have to get people to buy in,” Dart said. “If you are too strident, I think people, good people will say ‘we’re not comfortable here.’”

Even so, Dart acknowledged his offer might get a mixed reception.

“Some departments we have very close relationships with on many different levels where they might be excited that we would take this on for them,” Dart said. “It would be one less thing they have to worry about. Honestly, there might be some that might feel it’s none of my business and ‘we will will handle it ourselves.’”