McHenry County Board District 4 candidates talk SAFE-T Act, other ways to reduce crime rates

Election 2024
Candidates for the McHenry County Board’s District 4 include, clockwise starting in top left, Dominic Petrucci, Joe Gottemoller, Laura McGowen and Mike “Shorty” Shorten.

Two of the candidates for the McHenry County Board’s District 4 said the the county’s responsibility for implementing the unfunded new requirements in SAFE-T Act is their biggest concern, while the others said they want to focus on alleviating conditions that can lead to crime.

Four candidates are running for the two open seats in the newly redrawn District 4, which runs from Bull Valley and the southern part of McHenry in the north to Crystal Lake in the south, hitting southeast Woodstock and a bit of Prairie Grove and Cary.

Incumbent Joseph “Joe” Gottemoller, now serving District 3, is joined by fellow Republican Mike “Shorty” Shorten. The two Democrats are Laura McGowen and Dominic Petrucci. All four candidates live in Crystal Lake.

The Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today, or SAFE-T, Act, signed into law in February 2021, eliminates cash bail and mandates body cameras for law enforcement in addition to numerous other changes. On Monday, lawsuits brought by 58 of the state’s 108 counties challenging the law were consolidated by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Gottemoller said he understands the law’s intent. “We don’t want people languishing in jail” on low-level crime, he said, but raised concerns about the costs associated with opening and staffing the courthouse on Saturday and Sunday, as the law will require, and tracking down suspects who do not return for their court dates.

“Everybody else that is there,” including court security, bailiffs, a clerk and prosecutors, “is going to run a couple hundred thousand a year” in additional costs to the county, Gottemoller said.

The County Board’s role in implementing the law is ensuring that the state’s attorney and sheriff’s office are appropriately funded, Shorten said. But, he noted, at the end of the day those two elected offices have to make their budgets work.

“I have had conversations with [presumed McHenry County Sheriff Robb Tadelman] and [State’s Attorney] Pat Kenneally. They are doing their level best within the parameters Springfield has laid out,” Shorten said. “They will navigate as best as possible.”

The Democratic candidates said their focus would be reducing the things that drive crime, including addiction and homelessness.

Police, McGowen said, are equipped to react to crime.

“We should direct more resources to being proactive and being safe,” she said. “That will have a drastic impact on the level of crime and community services.”

Homelessness is a problem here, she said, and the existing shelters and programs are not enough.

“There are not services for people who are in immediate need of shelter. It really puts them in a bad situation and causes them to turn to drugs perhaps,” McGowen said. “Sometimes [they] end up in jail for three square meals and somewhere to stay. It is unnecessary and sad.”

Petrucci agreed that prevention programs for those suffering from mental health and drug dependency issues can help reduce overall crime rates.

“I hope to bring more resources with the McHenry County Mental Health Board to help our homeless and those who are struggling with addictions, opioids. A lot are veterans, as well,” Petrucci said.

Much of what is being said about the SAFE-T Act by candidates running for office is propaganda, Petrucci said.

To reduce crime, law enforcement needs to work with the mental health board, he said. By working together, “you make sure there are resources for this, for addiction and the homeless. That will decrease the crime,” Petrucci said.