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Shutting down Forest Preserves police department would endanger safety

Forest Preserves Police have specialized training in conservation and ecology. They are ambassadors to the public, perform conservation roles and help protect wildlife.

Sun-Times Media

On July 26, State Rep. Fred Crespo wrote in support of a bill he has filed to close the Forest Preserves of Cook County Police Department and transfer those duties to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office (HB2297).

This would damage the forest preserves’ operations and ability to offer a safe, welcoming place to experience wilderness in Cook County.

We say this as the chair and vice chair of the law enforcement committees of both of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, which oversees the sheriff’s office and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County Board of Commissioners, which oversees the Forest Preserves Police.

For the forest preserves to serve Cook County’s 5.2 million residents, visitors must be safe and must feel safe.

Forest Preserves police are trained law enforcement officers dedicated to the preserves 24/7. They conduct high-visibility foot, bicycle and other alternative patrols on and off the trails — more than 2,600 in the first six months of this year alone.

Forest Preserves police also have specialized training in conservation and ecology from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. They are ambassadors to the public, perform conservation roles like checking for fishing licenses and help protect habitat and wildlife.

These activities are outside the duties and expertise of sheriff’s officers.

Yet, Rep. Crespo cites saving nearly $10 million from closing the Forest Preserves Police, a department whose entire budget is $10.5 million. With the higher salary structure of Cook County Sheriff’s officers, this proposal will drastically reduce attention paid to the preserves by law enforcement or actually increase the costs to Cook County taxpayers.

Like many law enforcement agencies (including the sheriff’s office), the Forest Preserves Police have confronted challenges, most notably last year when an officer failed to stop harassment of a woman wearing a t-shirt displaying the Puerto Rican flag.

There have been quick and decisive repercussions by the forest preserves’ leadership in these rare instances, and established procedures and the message from the top is that these incidents are unacceptable.

HB2297 specifically calls to eliminate the authority of the Forest Preserve Board of Commissioners to maintain a police force. This duly elected board has repeatedly confirmed that a specialized group of law enforcement professionals is needed to protect the forest preserves.

We strongly support government efficiency and accountability.

HB2297 will not achieve those goals.

Commissioner Stanley Moore, 4th District

Commissioner Peter N. Silvestri, 9th District

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

Real change starts with voting Trump out in 2020

President Donald Trump’s acting ability from his TV days and his con artistry enabled him to somberly condemn obvious evils after this country’s latest mass killings.

All of those words in his teleprompter speech were rendered meaningless by his previous diatribes and actions against Hispanic migrants seeking asylum and other hate targets.

What makes this so dangerous is Trump’s presidential power, which he shares with the gun lobby. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans in Congress fearfully bow to him, so nothing will be done about that danger unless Trump is voted out of office.

He is counting on the electoral college to win for him again; it took only about 77,000 votes to do that in 2016. However, nearly 100 million people eligible to vote then didn’t.

If enough concerned Americans in that group realize their obligation, especially if they’re from pivotal states, Trump’s danger can be removed.

Eddie Stone, Northbrook