Bob Berlin on the Issues
I am committed to keeping the schools of DuPage County safe for our students to learn, grow, and prosper without fear or doubt for their own safety.
After the 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy, I became one of the charter members of of the DuPage County School Safety Task Force. Over the almost 7 year life-span of the Task Force, we have created a best practice framework for emergency preparedness and behavior threat assessment. Our most important goal has been to identify the tendencies of potential mass shooters before they act and to prevent shootings from occurring.
Additionally, during my tenure as State’s Attorney I have successfully prosecuted or resolved cases involving students communicating threats against the school, teachers, or other students. I have also made it clear that false reports or hoaxes will not be tolerated, and will prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The Task Force and my approach to crime in schools has allowed me to be extremely pro-active in this area and confront crime before it occurs. I think a good State’s Attorney should be exactly that, pro-active. I look forward to continuing to work with my partners in our school system, and community at large, to guarantee a safe and secure learning environment for our children.
the opioid crisis
The opioid crisis is real and it is effecting DuPage County at an alarming rate. In 2018 there were 98 opioid related overdose deaths here, a 3% increase from 2017. Since 2015 opioid overdose deaths in the county are up a staggering 92%. To combat this growing crisis I have implemented a multi-faceted approach.
The first component of this approach is to identify and separate drug dealers and substance abusers in the criminal justice system. By identifying those who are manufacturing and delivering the drugs versus those who are suffering from addiction, we can seek just punishment for the former and provide treatment and remediation options for the latter.
In support of holding the dealers accountable, I have brought cases against death dealing drug dealers for drug induced homicide and other related charges. This includes the recent charging of a Cook county resident for supplying heroin to a 21 year old man who died overdosing on the drug. My office also pursued one of the state’s first RICO cases against a heroin drug ring. The case brought a nearly two year investigation to a close with 31 individuals arrested, the mastermind of the organization sentenced to twenty years of prison time, and the shutdown of a criminal enterprise trafficking over $1 million in yearly illicit drug sales.
To support drug users who have become caught in the trap of addiction, the office implemented a Drug Court. Since the inception of the court in 2002, almost 800 offenders have been accepted into the program. The majority of these offenders have taken advantage of the system and its offerings to seek treatment, job/educational training, and turn their lives around.
Another important prong in our attack is holding reckless drug companies, who inadequately warn of the dangers of their products, and doctors, who over-prescribe them, responsible for their actions. The first step in this direction occurred in December of 2017 I joined with my fellow collar county State’s Attorneys and filed a law suit against “Big Pharma,” which stands for the drug companies responsible for producing, marketing, and selling the majority of addictive opioid drugs in the last twenty years. The lawsuit will hold these companies responsible for their role in negligently and inadequately representing and communicating the dangerously addictive nature of these drugs to doctors and general public.
Finally, I have sought to pair with local and regional partners to form a unified front opposing the crisis. By working collaboratively we can pool resources and increase points of access to services that can help drug abusers. To this effect, in April of 2018 I became an inaugural member of the Heroin/Opioid Prevention and Education (HOPE) Task Force. Part of the Task Force’s response was the creation of the First Offender Call Unified for Success program, or FOCUS, which complements DuPage's existing drug court. The idea of this program is to get specialized help to those who need it most, present them with the opportunity to succeed, and when they do, drop/expunge any pending criminal charges so that they will continue on the path to full rehabilitation and success as members of the community. In the first 9 months, almost 500 cases were heard through the FOCUS program, giving offenders real hope that they can change their circumstances.
When it comes to supporting the fight against opioids on the street, I have been a leading voice for equipping law enforcement and other first responders with NARCAN to save lives in real time.
Preventing Violent Crime
To the east, Chicago and Cook County offer a stark parallel of lawlessness and violence. Cook County seemingly sets new records for murders, shootings, armed robberies, vehicular hijackings, and every other type of violent offense on an annual basis. I will continue to work tirelessly to never let DuPage become such a place.
As the DuPage County State’s Attorney, I expanded the Felony Review screening unit that is on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. The expansion I oversaw included staffing attorneys from all of the specialty units (Sex Crimes, Narcotics, Major Crimes). To this day, the unit is staffed with experienced prosecutors who are available to local law enforcement agencies for advice and assistance on complex investigations. Their role is to review the evidence presented to ensure its sufficiency, only bringing the strongest and most complete cases to court. The Assistant State’s Attorneys of the unit are available via phone or for personal visits to Police Departments or crime scenes at all times of the day or night.
Over half of the felony offenders charged in DuPage County are not residents of the county itself. In the last three years, my office has increased its prosecution of eligible felony offenders, reducing the number of unsolved serious crimes.
I will continue to work hand in hand with law enforcement agencies in DuPage County to prevent crime before it occurs and fully charge offenders once such crimes have been perpetrated.
Seeking justice for the victims of crimes is essential to my job as State’s Attorney for DuPage County, but an equally important function is to reduce recidivism in the county. Reducing recidivism means moving offenders out of the criminal justice system and returning them to society as fully functioning and productive members.
I have sought to address this issue by having a renewed focus on how the office deals with juvenile offenders. The biggest drive in this area of the law has been to institute more diversion programs, including peer juries. Peer juries are juries comprised of other juveniles and young adults that focus on rehabilitation while working hand in hand with the Juvenile Probation division to reach measurable goals. The results of this focus speak for themselves; in 2014 there were 751 juvenile cases filed in DuPage County, and by the end of 2018 that number was reduced by 44% to 416 cases.
In addition to my focus on juveniles, I have sought to improve the odds for first time, non-violent adult offenders. In 2012 I created DuPage County’s first ever adult diversion program. The program is only available to offenders who have no previous criminal history and are facing charges for a non-violent offense (e.g. retail theft, forgery, criminal trespass, traffic offenses). Our diversion program requires the offender to first plead guilty without sentencing, then go out and complete their program goals, before returning to court to withdraw the guilty plea with the case dismissed if they completed their program satisfactorily. They can then seek expungement of the arrest.
In 2016, the program was shown to have a 97.1% success rate and more recently the success rate has stayed upwards of 95%, well above the national average of 68% success for diversionary programs. Currently, since inception to date, 243 offenders have been accepted and 140 have successfully completed it. Successful completion means those 140 program members have not been arrested or charged with a crime for one year after completing their commitments and having the original case dismissed.
I will continue to work with community members and outside organizations to create innovative solutions that break the cycle of criminality and reduce our jail population in DuPage County while not increasing risk for law abiding residents.
Child Support Enforcement
Another important function of my office is securing child support payments for single parents in need of assistance. To help achieve greater success in making sure that no child is left in need due to the negligence or irresponsibility of an absentee parent, I assigned 6 state’s attorneys and dedicated 2 courtrooms to pursuing cases of unpaid child support. In fiscal year 2017 this resulted in the recovery of $43.8 million in unpaid child support. Under my direction the office has streamlined its procedure for pursuing these actions and has been able to reduce the amount of state’s attorneys working these cases from 6 to 4 while still putting us on pace to exceed the $43.8 million recovered last fiscal year. The office is doing more with less and helping more parents and children in need than ever before.
I will continue to appropriate resources to this endeavor and make sure no parent or child is left behind.