COOK COUNTY, Ill. — Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been on the job a long time. Some years back, he says he decided to up the ante, in terms of training, for those wanting to become a Cook County Sheriff’s deputy. prioritizing

“We are the ones answering all the calls, so we better learn it,” Dart said. “Long ago, we changed the way we train people here to give them skill sets to deal with the realities of the real world.” 

It’s a rigorous process, as Recruit Griffin and Recruit Diaz know all too well. Both will start serving within the county jail system this year, having passed not just a physical component but also undertaking an in-depth look at mental health and how to deal with it on the job. 

“What are the things we need to do to make sure we have all those tools,” Dart said.

The Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board currently requires 200 hours of training for recruits which will increase to 320 hours come the first of July. 

The Cook County Department of Corrections Academy demands 800 hours also to include components like crisis intervention training not mandated by the state.  

“I want well inmates and I want well officers and that starts from the top down,” said Daniel Morjal, who helps teach the county’s crisis intervention training program. “I would like the right professionals to be in the right places at the right time.”

But having those professionals in place is becoming more challenging due to the decreasing number of people signing up for a career in law enforcement.

In 2021, the number of recruits for the correctional program was 346. The number dropped last year to 179. Year to date, the number of recruits stands at 120. On the police side, 102 recruits in 2021; 158 in 2022; and 103 so far in 2023.

But other agencies are down as well.

A WGN Investigation saw more than 1,000 officers leave the Chicago Police Department in 2022, through resignation and retirement, with recruitment not quite enough to offset that loss.  

Dart says it never used to be that way, with a queue at the door in past days.

“People would line up outside buildings overnight just to get the application,” he said.

Dart notes that it’s not just law enforcement facing shortages.

“We are no different than many entities in the country. Take your pick. Any type of business. There are signs everywhere that they’re looking for people,” Dart said.

The longtime law enforcement official says he feels that with the extra emphasis teams like his are placing on training people the right way, it’s only a matter of time before things turn around.  

“I think people understand a very well-trained, thoughtful law enforcement agency is a great future and a great position to be involved with,” Dart said. “So, I do think it’ll come back.”