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City Club of Chicago: Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart

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Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart speaks at the City Club of Chicago, May 22, 2017 (City Club of Chicago)

May 22, 2017

Hon. Thomas Dart – Sheriff – Cook County

Hon. Thomas Dart

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Sheriff Tom Dart has lived a life dedicated to effecting change, protecting the unprotected, and fighting for social justice.

After serving the community as a prosecutor and state legislator, Dart decided to run for Cook County Sheriff in 2006 on a promise of using this incredible platform to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable and neglected communities among us. In the ensuing decade, he has fulfilled that promise by enacting meaningful social justice reforms and rewriting the book on what a sheriff can accomplish.

At the Cook County Department of Corrections, the Sheriff oversees a population of over 12,000 that includes inmates both housed on-site and ordered to alternative programs such as electronic monitoring. Dart’s restorative justice vision has reduced the number of non-violent offenders detained at Cook County Jail – the largest in the nation. In 2015, he worked to enact the Rocket Docket into law, which has resulted in faster disposition of retail theft and criminal trespassing cases through the system.

Dart has received many awards from national and local mental health advocacy organizations for his push to end what has become a de facto criminalization of mental illness. There are approximately 2,500-3,000 people with diagnosed mental illness housed in the jail on any given day, making it the largest mental health facility in the country. Dart firmly believes that for those with mental illness, a service provider is a far more productive setting than a jail. In 2013, he launched the Office of Mental Health Policy & Advocacy, which operates a 24-hour Care Line for mentally ill ex-inmates and families of current mentally ill inmates, while screening all pre-bond detainees for mental illness.

In recent years, Sheriff Dart has increasingly focused his attention on the plight of Cook County’s most impoverished suburbs. As suburban police departments increasingly cut budget and staff despite upticks in crime and narcotics activity in their communities, the Sheriff has invested resources to pick up the slack and ensure all Cook County citizens receive a proper level of police protection. In 2008, when the Village of Ford Heights Police Department walked off the job, he directed Sheriff’s Police to enter the town and take over law enforcement operations. The Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department remains the police force in Ford Heights to this day.

Sheriff Dart also overhauled the county’s approach to foreclosure evictions – ensuring that evictees receive proper notice before being put out on the street and offering on-site social services geared towards families with school-age children, the elderly, and individuals suffering from mental illness. Dart gained national prominence in 2009 for placing a moratorium on evictions after banks admitted to robo-signing foreclosure documents. That year, TIME magazine named Dart one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

A native Chicagoan, Dart graduated from Providence College and earned his law degree from Loyola University of Chicago. He and his wife, Patricia, live on Chicago’s South Side and are the proud parents of five young children.

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