Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said his top priority is to eliminate systemic racism in the justice system and make Lake County safer, according to a public letter he wrote.
Rinehart said that he is pledging safety, equality and transparency as pillars of his new administration.
“We must make Lake County safer and our courthouse fairer. I have worked for 17 years in Lake County courtrooms, and I know we can better serve the people of this county. And we will,” Rinehart said.
“We have already started to put together an experienced, diverse, and motivated team of attorneys and outreach specialists who will take this mission to all parts of the county,” he added.
To combat the rising violent crime rate, Rinehart has created a Violent Crimes Unit.
The unit will focus on vertical prosecution as a new strategy under which prosecutors will start working with law enforcement on night one of an offense.
The Domestic Violence Unit has been restarted and experienced felony prosecutors have been assigned to that division.
Rinehart said he wants his office to prioritize “crimes with victims” which not only include violent crimes but also include scams like taking advantage of the elderly and the poor.
Police have said that the pandemic has opened a new pathway for financial predators to take advantage of those who are already frightened and unsure of how to protect themselves and their assets.
Rinehart also said in the letter that his top priority is to eliminate systemic racism in the justice system.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is not just about eliminating (racial) profiling, but also about making sure that victims of color are not ignored,” Rinehart said. “The victims don’t feel connected, and we need to change this.”
“We want to intelligently fight crime in the short term and the long term. We can do this while also reducing racial and economic disparities in the courthouse,” he said.
“We will work together with our partners in law enforcement to develop new and creative crime-fighting strategies, while also using statistics and implicit bias training to expose and reduce inequality.”
“We also need to rebuild the trust between our courthouse and our communities, especially in less affluent areas,” Rinehart said. “Hopefully, we can foster more participation in programs designed to help those in lower-income neighborhoods, while at the same time developing a long-term vision for crime reduction.”
Rinehart hopes to expand specialty courts, which offer a potential alternative to prison for non-violent offenders who are suffering from substance abuse disorder or mental health problems.
“If we can expand these programs, we can not only help more people who are willing to address their problems, but we can also reduce crime and save taxpayer money on incarceration costs,” he added.
Rinehart hired and appointed Sharmila Manak, a former public defender, to the position of First Assistant, Chief Deputy of the Office’s Criminal Division. Manak is both the first woman and the first minority to hold that position in Lake County.
“She’s been a fantastic partner in this transition toward a more transparent and innovative office,” Rinehart said.
He stressed the importance of public transparency and fighting bias, “whether conscious or unconscious.” All prosecutors in the state’s attorney’s office will undergo intensive bias training and that statistics will be kept “to prevent unconscious bias in all of our decisions.”
“We must always do more than simply hope our system is fair in terms of how our minorities are treated,” Rinehart said. “Our mission must be a daily quest to fight for equal treatment, even if each of us has to work harder to make it happen.”