Illinois sheriff says public has 'right to know' about abuses in jail

The release is part of the Sheriff’s larger effort to restore public trust in one of the county’s most overcrowded jails, which has been plagued with violence for several years.

Jim Young/Reuters
A Cook County Sheriff's police car patrols the exterior of the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois.

In an effort to bring transparency to one of the most populated jails in the country, the Cook County, Ill., Sheriff released six videos with surveillance footage that showing police using excessive force on inmates.

The videos, recorded between 2011 and 2012, correspond to six individual cases on which Cook County’s Sheriff’s Merit Board – the civilian oversight body that makes the final judgment whenever the Sheriff’s Office recommends a firing or longterm suspension of an officer – made rulings.

"The public has a right to know when officers abuse the public trust as well as the ramifications of that abuse," said Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart, in a statement accompanying the release.

"Transparency can be very uncomfortable," said Cara Smith, the Cook County Sheriff Department’s chief of policy and communications, ABC new reported. "Despite how troubling they may be to view it's an important part of moving forward and regaining the trust of the community.

The sheriff’s office said the public should expect to see more videos as more cases are decided by the civilian oversight board.

“We have a number that are pending before the merit board now,” said Ms. Smith, according to the Chicago Sun Times. “And we will be getting those up [online] as soon as those decisions are made.

The officers involved in the cases have all been disciplined since, five were fired, one resigned and eight were suspended without pay for periods between 45 and 180 days.

The release is part of Sheriff Dart's larger effort to restore public trust in the county’s jail that has been afflicted with violence over the years. Several months ago, the sheriff began posting the Merit Board’s decisions regarding the disciplining of officers on his website. The sheriff has also invested more than $10 million in 2,400 cameras that have been installed throughout the jail compound.

“The existence of all these cameras has exponentially increased the ability of the sheriff’s office to hold accountable both officers who use excessive force as well as inmates who attack officers,” Dart’s office said in a statement, The Washington Post reported.

The County’s sheriff is credited for playing a significant role in bring down the number of inmates held in Cook County jail. In 2013 the jail had more than 10,000 inmates, but the number had reduced to less than 8,000 in 2015, according to Chicago Tribune.

Last August the state signed into law the Accelerated Resolution Court Act, creating a “rocket docket” program that aims to further ease overcrowding in the  jail. The program – initiated by Dart – seeks to ensures that nonviolent defendants charged with low-level crimes, such as retail theft or criminal trespassing, will have their cases disposed of within 30 days or be released pending trial.  

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