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Editorial: Cook County doesn’t need another police dept.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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What does a county that’s served by some 160 distinct police forces need?

If you said it needs one more, you think like the people behind a plan to turn Cook County’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management into a new police force.

A bill introduced in Springfield on March 8 by state Sen. Antonio “Tony” Munoz would create the new county police force, which would answer to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Suddenly, an office whose primary job is to get federal grant money would become a newly deputized collection of Wyatt Earps.

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Let’s hope wiser heads prevail. Cook County already has a sheriff’s department, with officers who patrol the entire county every day. There are 134 municipal police departments, the State Police, the Cook County Forest Preserve police, campus police, hospital police and an assortment of small state government police forces. Even Metra has its own cops.

If all those departments can’t deal with an emergency that crops up, it’s not likely that one more group of people with badges would make a difference.

In the past, when there’s been a need for a particular employee to have police powers, the sheriff has deputized that person. That’s a lot cheaper than creating a whole new police force.

As Dan Mihalopoulos reported in Thursday’s Sun-Times, the sworn officers in the new police department “shall have the power to investigate and mitigate threats of manmade disasters, protect the county’s critical infrastructure, have access to law enforcement databases, protect the county’s emergency assets and personnel that get deployed upon the request of local law enforcement agencies in emergency circumstances, protect county elected officials as requested, and observe and enforce local, county, and State ordinances and laws.”

Is there anything on the list the police we already have can’t do? And why do we need special new police if part of their job would be to be bodyguards for elected county officials? How is that “homeland security”? How is that “emergency management”?

When reformers look at Illinois, they generally say we’re split up into too many fiefdoms, not too few. Illinois has 6,963 local governments, according to Governing magazine. No other state is close. Even Preckwinkle has recognized that problem, and in the past she has called for some consolidation measures.

Not anymore. Now Preckwinkle is attempting to do what too many officials have done in the past — split up the many governmental agencies we already have into even more.

County officials say they expect Munoz’s bill to come to a vote in early April. When they get the chance, lawmakers should shoot it down.

The Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management was never intended to be a police force. Let’s not turn it into one now.

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