Cops and prosecutors: Fund Illinois’ social services

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — Police chiefs, sheriffs and state’s attorneys from throughout Illinois came to the Capitol on Wednesday to ask neither for more squad cars nor more prosecutors, but for more services for kids.

Illinois’ budget impasse, now entering its ninth month, has devastated programs including at-risk youth intervention, after-school programming and successful efforts to divert young people from imprisonment, the officers said.

Resolving the budget impasse and restoring the services are neither Republican nor Democratic issues, said Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel. Instead, he said, “It’s just what needs to be done.”

Helping kids early – before they’ve met the police or very soon afterward – is a proven crime deterrent, slashes recidivism and is far less expensive to the taxpayer than are arrest, prosecution and incarceration, they said.

kelly_incarceration_quoteThe earlier the intervention, the better the outcomes, said Brendan Kelly, St. Clair County state’s attorney.

“The budget impasse is removing too many tools from our toolbox,” Kelly said. “As a result, we are increasingly relying on incarceration again.”

Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski said he’s spent 42 years in law enforcement, including a stretch as a juvenile officer.

He said the question remains: “What really leads young people to be criminals, and how can we most effectively get in front of that problem in the first place, before it’s too late?”

The chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors in the room all know from experience and from acknowledged research that intervention early in life – such as through home visits by the Illinois Department of Human Services – do work and are cost effective, Kaminski said.

“Sadly, by the time we get there as police officers, the damage is already done,” he said.

The group said services to at-risk children reduce abuse and neglect by half. Diversion programs such as Redeploy Illinois cut by half, and sometimes more, the number of commitments to the state’s juvenile incarceration system, the officers and attorneys said.

“We can’t shut down juvenile crime by shutting down the very programs that keep our youth safe by providing them worthwhile alternatives to the streets,” said Mike Nerheim, Lake County state’s attorney.

From an individual officer’s perspective, the impact of not funding these programs is extraordinarily frustrating, Weitzel said.

A police call for something as simple as a teenager locked out by his parent or parents can become a quagmire, he said.

The social service providers once available to help within 90 minutes of a call from police no longer show up because their funding has been eliminated and their personnel laid off, Weitzel said.

Police call the Department of Children and Family Services for help, he said, and “you know what DCFS is doing? They’re not coming.”

Resolving the budget impasse and restoring the services are neither Republican nor Democratic issues, Weitzel said. Instead, “It’s just what needs to be done.”

Said Kaminski: “Springfield, you have to stop the squabbling.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner, speaking at a separate news conference, took a couple of questions on the issues raised by the police and prosecutors.

“Not having a budget is very damaging to all elements of our society,” said Rauner. “Not having a balanced budget has been damaging Illinois for decades.”

Rauner argues the best thing Illinois can do for social service funding, for crime prevention and for improving Illinoisans’ lives in general is to square the state’s finances, reform its political and business environments and grow the state economy.

“A short-term fix, a massive tax hike, that won’t help,” he said.

The governor said he’s very concerned about and has supported many of the programs the officers and state’s attorneys discussed, including Redeploy Illinois.

“We need solutions to our problems [and] we need to come together on a bipartisan basis,” Rauner said.

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