Install cameras in Markham courthouse holding cells, quickly

Following a 2017 rape, cameras were promised but haven’t yet been delivered. The procurement process takes time, but improvements in public safety should not take half a decade.

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The Cook County courthouse in Markham, where a female detainee was sexually assaulted by two men being held there in 2017.

The Cook County courthouse in Markham, where a female detainee was sexually assaulted by two men being held there in 2017.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

After a woman was raped in 2017 in a holding cell at the Cook County regional courthouse in Markham, security should have become a top priority.

But almost five years later, the area of the courthouse where the rape occurred is still without surveillance cameras that were promised, as the Sun-Times’ Robert Herguth reported last Sunday.

“Ideally, there are cameras on every corner of our whole system,” Cara Smith, then a top aide to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, said in 2017. “But we’re not there yet.”

Cook County needs to get there, quickly.

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The procurement contract that would bring additional cameras to the Markham courthouse, as part of significant video system upgrades to the courthouse system as a whole, is expected to go up for vote at the upcoming March or April meeting of the Board of Commissioners, according to an aide to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

The ‘yes’ vote on that contract should be an easy one for the board.

The rape happened in May 2017, when a woman detainee accused of a low-level, non-violent crime was assaulted by two male detainees. Dart’s office moved to fire nine employees accused of on-the-job negligence; six eventually lost their jobs.

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Taxpayers had to foot the bill for a $3.25 million payout to the victim from Cook County.

A spokesman for Dart makes a valid point in a written statement citing “the unfortunately lengthy and complex procurement process, which is governed by strict legal requirements.” The sheriff’s office also now requires deputies and supervisors to wear body-worn cameras, and mirrors have been installed to allow staff to visually inspect blind spots like the one where the victim was seated at the time of the attacks.

But security cameras, as soon as possible, are essential.

Cameras alone won’t stop future attacks from happening. But they can help sheriff’s office employees maintain order and be sure detainees are in a safe, control environment.

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