Cook County Adult Probation Department: A Public Menace
by Lee Williams, Illinois Policy Institute
CHICAGO—If the Cook County probation officer assigned to supervise Acurie Collier had done his job, the convicted sexual predator wouldn’t have been able to sexually assault a 13-year-old child in her bedroom on the city’s south side four months ago, as police have alleged.
It’s not as though the probation officer ignored just one warning sign in Collier’s behavior. His colleagues told the Illinois Policy Institute the officer ignored 41 missed curfews, let them all slide and took no official action. Had he reported Collier’s misconduct and “violated” the offender back to jail, the alleged sexual assault of the child could have been averted.
Before the attack, Collier had been on probation for a charge of aggravated criminal sexual assault. He remains in jail subject to a $1.5 million bond, charged with aggravated sexual abuse of a minor.
Jesus Reyes, acting-chief of the Cook County Adult Probation Department, admitted the officer assigned to supervise Collier “dropped the ball.”
“I’m afraid so. That is absolutely the case,” Reyes told the Illinois Policy Institute.
Reyes’ department receives $43 million per year from taxpayers to safeguard the public by monitoring hardened criminals whom a judge decided to sentence to probation rather than prison or jail. Probation officers who have spoken to the Institute say not only are much of the taxpayer dollars being wasted, the public is far from safe.
The systemic failures that allowed the convicted sexual predator to go what probation officers call “off-leash” and get arrested for sexually assaulting another child are emblematic of the problems within Reyes’ department, according to nearly a dozen probation officers who spoke to the Illinois Policy Institute on the condition of anonymity. The officers said they would likely be fired if their names were used in this story.
These probation officers say the Cook County Adult Department has deteriorated into a morass of internal dissonance and conflict caused by poor or chronically-absent supervisors more concerned about their off-duty jobs than their officers, too much “clouting” of staff and employees, a near-total lack of effective standards and policies, and other destructive forces.
The department’s annual infusion of $43 million in public funds is misspent and wasted, the probation officers say. Serious reforms are needed immediately or more probationers will go unsupervised, placing the public at extreme risk.
An investigation by the Illinois Policy Institute found significant flaws within the agency, similar to what the officers have been saying:
- The alleged sexual assault of the 13-year-old child committed July 31 could have been prevented if the probation officer—who remains employed at the department, receiving an annual salary of more than $72,000—had done his job and been properly supervised.
- Senior staff and line supervisors working off-duty as a security force at the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s former church have been involved in criminal activity, according to their colleagues.
- The officers say selection, hiring and supervision of often depends on who the officer knows, or who they’re related to—their clout.
- The department has standards and policies, over 1,000 pages. However, they’re poorly written and selectively enforced—seldom against an officer with clout, the officers say. As a result, they say there is little accountability.
- Many officers said they ignore department policy as it often conflicts with what they view as the right thing to do.
- The entire department could benefit from more transparency and public scrutiny, according the Institute’s investigation.
- The department rewards clouted staff with “merit pay,” rather than using the department’s left-over taxpayer dollars as a reward for hard work, or returning them to the general fund, according to sources who spoke with the Institute.
- There are few statewide standards for probation officers, a flaw the officers hope will someday result in a legislative fix.