What to know about electronic monitoring in Cook County
Violent crime is often a hot topic in Chicago, and electronic monitoring has become a big part of the conversation. But how much do you really know about how this program works in Cook County?
CHICAGO – Violent crime is often a hot topic in Chicago, and electronic monitoring has become a big part of the conversation. But how much do you really know about how this program works in Cook County?
In 2021 alone, for example, well over 50 people were arrested for shootings or murders, all while on electronic monitoring.
“They have pointed the finger at us. And we know that finger pointing doesn’t work,” said Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans.
“I don’t think there’s another city in this country releasing people charged with murder back in to the community on electronic monitoring,” countered Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown.
There are a lot of strong opinions about how well electronic monitoring is working in Cook County. But do you know how it works at all?
“There’s two separate home monitoring programs. The one that we run with about 2,500 people on it. Then one that the chief judge runs that has, we think, about a thousand to 1,500 people on it,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
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“I would be surprised if most people knew that,” said Jordan Boulger,”There are still some folks who work in the system who are kind of surprised that we have two programs.”
Boulger is an administrative analyst for Cook County’s Adult Probation Department, which oversees the lesser known electronic monitoring program that’s part of the chief judge’s office.
“So we’re completely separate departments. Honestly, we’re a separate branch of government,” he said. “The courts are separate from law enforcement … so our program is separate. We have a separate population that we are monitoring … some separate policies and procedures.”
Boulger says the biggest difference between the defendants in each program is their perceived level of risk.
“The sheriff electronic monitoring program is designated for higher risk defendants,” he said. “The highest risk defendants are recommended for what we call maximum conditions or detention … the lowest risk are recommended to be released without conditions. What we would call an I-Bond.”
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Boulger says most of the 1,600 plus defendants in the chief judge’s program are monitored for curfew violations from 7 pm to 7 am with the use of a radio frequency bracelet. It primarily uses a GPS device for defendants charged with a domestic violence offense.
The sheriff department’s program uses GPS to monitor all 2,300 defendants in its program 24/7.
While the chief judge’s monitoring program historically has fewer offenses on it than the sheriff department’s, and for fewer offenses, that seems to be changing — due to 2017 bond reform measures and the local increase in violent crime.
“It’s being used more for younger weapons possession offender,” Boulger said. “People who are maybe 18 to 30-years-old who are charged with unlawful use of a weapon.”
It’s also being used for those charged with attempted murder.
Regardless of that, both programs say about 80 percent of their populations do not commit another crime while out on electronic monitoring.
While the programs operate separately, they do use the same vendor for monitoring services. That’s required by Cook County’s procurement policy.
Even with that shared resource, Boulger says the two programs still don’t talk to each other that much – if at all.
“There’s not really a formal group or meeting set up to have that line of communication between the programs,” Boulger said.
So who decides who is enrolled in which monitoring program?
“The judges pick who goes on home monitoring,” Sheriff Dart said. “Some, they pick them and then hand them off to sheriff to monitor them … but there are many others where the judge picks them and then they themselves monitor them … in house with their pretrial service people.”
One reason you might not know much about the chief judge’s program is because the adult probation department just began posting detailed information about it on its website a few months ago.
“So we determined that instead of, kind of, perpetuating the narrative that we’re hiding something or that we’re a black hole that nobody knows what we are doing … I think the environment had changed so that it became more palatable or more desirable to make this info public,” Boulger said. “And to show we’re not hiding anything.”
Boulger adds most jurisdictions in the US typically have only one electronic monitoring program and its usually run by the chief judge’s office.
He also says Cook County is discussing the possibility of combining the two programs into one.