County officials plan to change the way juvenile offenders are tracked after a 17-year-old male on home monitoring was accused of sexually assaulting a pregnant Chicago State University Sept. 10.
Rose Marie Golden, the director of the Cook County Juvenile Probation Department, said late Wednesday that as a result of their early investigation into the incident, the county's vendor -- Sentinel Offender Services -- will begin monitoring the system 24 hours a day within the next 48 hours.
"They will send the notifications back to us," Golden said, although she admitted that the details on exactly how that will happen have not been ironed out.
The probation officer assigned to Aaron Parks when he was accused of the sexual assault has been placed on temporary suspension.
As it is currently configured, the Cook County juvenile monitoring system is not even staffed 24 hours a day. Probation officers assigned to electronic monitoring are only on duty from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Even when the system is staffed, officers aren't actually monitoring in real time. Rather, they make periodic checks on the young suspects in their charge.
The union representing Cook County's juvenile probation officers says the public is at risk from the current arrangement and that the officer who was suspended has been made a scapegoat for an impossibly inadequate system.
"If there were some set standards in place and the proper protocol was inputted, then these officers would have been able to monitor this kid correctly," said Jason Smith, the president of AFSCME Local 3477.
"It's possible that no one is checking on these kids," Smith said, noting that officers on the morning shift only keep track of offenders assigned to them, and that the reverse is true on the evening shift.
Each officer is responsible for 20 to 30 offenders, and Smith notes that at times, they are not even in the building where the monitoring takes place.
"They also have to transport juveniles from the juvenile detention center to their home," he said. "Also, some of the EM officers may have to go to court and testify."
When the system is operating properly, Smith said officers go into a system called "omni-link" from time to time, to check on offenders they are supposed to be watching. The system is capable of sending an email alert to officers if one of their suspects ventures past the area where they are supposed to be. But the union chief said that is of little use when officers are away from work.
"They're off duty," he said. "So why would I check my email, when I'm off duty?"
The result, he says, is a system where offenders can wander away undetected for hours. Parks' mother said he was gone when she woke up the day of the attack, which the victim said occurred at about 12:20 in the afternoon.
The union bristled at Golden's 24-hour staffing plan, saying that if anyone should be monitoring the offenders 24 hours a day, it should be Cook County juvenile probation officers, not the staffers at a monitoring center based in Irvine, California.
"That's going to have to be discussed with the union because that's our work," Smith said, calling for a full outside investigation of the entire Cook County juvenile probation system.
"The department cannot, and is not capable, of conducting an unbiased investigation," he said.
Golden said she was prepared for the union challenge. And she insisted she is looking at the full spectrum of the way the County deals with juvenile offenders.
"I'll deal with the fallout later," she said. "We're going to tear this place apart, piece by piece, and whatever revisions we need to make, we'll make."