Kadner: Cook County Sheriff offers hope for Robbins
By Phil Kadner email@example.com February 20, 2013 11:02PM
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart makes a statement during the town hall meeting at the Robbins Community Center in Robbins, IL on Tuesday February 19, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 22, 2013 10:27AM
An angry Wanda Hampton shouted that Robbins police had yet to solve the murder a year ago of her 21-year-old son, Dwayne Robinson, who was shot in front of her home.
“This town’s not over 10 blocks long, and we can’t solve a murder,” Hampton said.
Clantcha Miller, 69, said she told Robbins police repeatedly that her grandchildren had broken into “seven or eight” homes in the neighborhood and “nothing happened until they were caught breaking into a store in Midlothian.”
Hampton and Miller were just two of about 75 Robbins residents at a town hall meeting Tuesday night to hear that a new sheriff was in town.
That’s Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who announced at a news conference at the Robbins Community Center an hour earlier that his department had discovered 51 unprocessed rape kits in the village police department’s evidence room.
There was also a “barrel of guns,” confiscated by Robbins police officers but never sent to the feds to check for links to other crimes, Dart said.
“Those guns were just dumped in a barrel,” he told me. “There must have been about 50 handguns. And there were shotguns and other guns lined up nearby.”
Dart’s office is primarily responsible for patrolling unincorporated areas of Cook County. But the role of the sheriff’s police has expanded over the years because of criminal conduct by some suburban police departments (such as Ford Heights) and budget cuts in other towns.
Dart contends that the state law creating his office gives him leeway to swoop in and protect the public wherever there’s criminal activity in Cook County.
“It’s like the law was written for a sheriff in the Old West,” he said.
Sheriff’s police provide evidence technicians for about 60 suburbs that can no longer afford to hire their specialists. The department also has a gang unit that, through a sophisticated tracking technology, keeps close tabs on street gang activity in the suburbs, Dart said.
The sheriff will now provide a patrol car and support services to Robbins, although Dart indicated to Robbins citizens that his department will offer them a wide range of law enforcement assistance.
Even before the announcement Tuesday, Dart said his officers had made about 160 arrests in Robbins during 2012, an extraordinary number for a suburb that has its own police force.
At the town hall meeting, he heard numerous senior citizens complain of home burglaries by local teenagers. Most of the residents said that when they called police, they were told there was a point system that prevented Robbins police from arresting juveniles.
Dart said that while the Cook County state’s attorney’s office has a point system for determining what type of crime qualifies a teenager for juvenile detention, “a crime is a crime” and minors who break the law should be charged.
More than one senior citizen warned that if police officials didn’t act soon, the residents would take matters into their hands.
“They just don’t have the money to fund the police department the people here deserve,” Dart told me.
“It’s mostly a part-time police department.”
Robbins police Cmdr. Christian Daigre said the department has four full-time administrative officers and 50 part-time patrol officers.
Former Police Chief Johnny Holmes resigned in December after he was charged with drunken driving for the second time in three years. An interim police chief has taken his place.
Robbins has a population of about 5,300 and is 1.5 square miles (bordered by approximately 133rd Street on the north, 143rd Street on the south, Pulaski Road on the west and Kedzie Avenue on the east). The median family income is about $32,000, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
For many years, Robbins was notorious as a minority community where the children of primarily white Orland Park and Oak Lawn would drive to openly buy drugs on street corners. The teens selling dope often earned more in a month than the police officers trying to bust them could in a year.
Robbins officials, who were part of the town hall meeting, repeatedly tried to reassure the crowd that they were still in control of the suburb and that local police would still patrol the streets. Some village residents seemed apprehensive about the sheriff’s police coming into town, but most seemed grateful.
And while Dart did his best to be diplomatic and emphasize that he was invited in by Mayor Irene Brodie, he made it clear that given the inability of the village police to cope with crime, he wasn’t going to ignore the problem.
“More and more of these suburbs are having a hard time meeting their budget, and their biggest expense is paying for fire and police protection,” the sheriff said.
He did not mention the fact that corruption, mismanagement and incompetence are near epidemic proportions in some south suburban police departments.
Dart has his financial problems with county board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has been slashing the county budget and has repeatedly pressured Dart to cut his budget. She wanted Dart to cut back by 16 percent this year, after cuts the two previous years.
Preckwinkle ultimately relented, But county Commissioner Deborah Sims (D-Chicago) reminded the town hall meeting that the county board is keeping a close eye on the sheriff’s budget.
Dart does not seem inclined to back off.
“Our mission is to protect the public safety,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to do. Here in Robbins and anywhere else there’s a problem.”
The Robbins residents said they fear going to church on Sunday because someone will break into their homes and steal their stuff.
No one should have to live like that.