File Photo – North Chicago Police Department | Photo: Woo-Sung Shim / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

The Lake County Board on Tuesday unanimously approved additional funding to expand the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office’s newly-created Violent Crimes Unit.

The board’s action authorizes Lake County State Attorney Eric Rinehart to devote two additional prosecutors and a victim-witness counselor to the unit.

“This Violent Crimes Unit will allow our most experienced prosecutors to immediately collaborate with police agencies in order to provide enhanced legal support during investigations,” Rinehart said.

“For the first time ever, we will be assigning a victim-witness counselor immediately to cases involving a homicide or great bodily harm. Victims may need help immediately even when a police investigation is still open. I am proud of this early support for victims and survivors,” he added.

Rinehart said that the unit would follow a vertical prosecution approach in which the same prosecutor follows a case from the beginning until the end of the case.

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“This model has been used in our sex crimes unit for years, but I have been expanding it to violent crimes. This allows the same attorneys and counselors to be working with survivors immediately,” Rinehart said.

Rinehart had previously requested the expansion of the unit during budget hearings in October.

But after normal operating budgets were kept flat for the fiscal year 2022, Rinehart worked with Lake County Administrative staff and the Finance and Administration Committee to seek funding from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) apportionment.

“State’s Attorney Rinehart has been aggressively seeking this funding for months. He presented the board with statistics that showed a sustained increase in violence over the last several years, and we felt his office needed additional resources to deal with this recent surge within the pandemic,” Lake County Board Chair Sandy Hart said.

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“We have asked him to look for other efficiencies in the office, but we also felt that emergency ARPA funding could be used now for a vital community need,” Hart said.

The funding is expected to be available by January 2022 and Rinehart said that he will be staffing the unit in consultation with First Assistant State’s Attorney Sharmila Manak and Chief of Violent Crimes Ben Dillon.