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Juvenile jail chief worried about 'dirt bag' workers

Earl Dunlap

Earl Dunlap

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The head of Cook County's juvenile jail has sent a 911 letter to Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis, concerned troubled staffers at the West Side youth facility will make good on violent threats against bosses as layoffs loom there.

The Sun-Times has obtained a copy of the Oct. 7 letter to Weis, penned by Earl Dunlap, head of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, that reads in part: "Over the next few months, the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center will be transitioning to a new staffing plan, which may potentially result in a job loss for over 200 JTDC employees. Hostilities have been growing among some staff members in connection with this plan, and there have been credible threats of violence."

Dunlap also wrote that he is "taking every precaution to keep all JTDC residents and staff safe during this potentially volatile time" and that "we anticipate calling upon the Chicago Police Department."

In a phone interview with the Sun-Times, Dunlap confirmed he authored the letter, and while he would not talk specifically about threats, he said supervisory staff have received anonymous notes -- slipped under the door -- from the staffers threatening violence. In addition, staff have overheard co-workers plotting.

"There have been some very credible and reliable threats that would suggest that once this transition effort goes down, some people are going to get hurt," Dunlap said, adding: "I'm not going to tolerate having someone's blood on my hands because of this."

Roughly 200 staffers -- or just over one-third -- aren't in compliance with a 2007 state law that requires JTDC staffers to, at a minimum, hold a bachelor's degree in social work or a related field.

Starting Nov. 1, those veteran staffers have to reapply for jobs at the detention center.

With the blessing of the federal court, which is overseeing a consent decree involving the JTDC, Dunlap effectively waived the college requirement if staffers pass a police background check and a standardized test that gauges employees' temperament and how they work with imprisoned youth. But ultimately those rehired will have to get a degree.

The consent decree stems from a 1999 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleging widespread problems at the facility. For years the detention center has been rocked by allegations of staff abusing youths.

"You have to understand, we have some people [without degrees] who are very, very good, but some of them are bottom feeders and dirt bags -- they shouldn't be looking after dogs in a shelter, much less kids in a detention center," Dunlap said, noting he expects the test will root out problem employees.

Most of the affected staffers serve as "counselors" who serve as guards at the 500-bed facility. But Dunlap says if there's some kind of backlash, police will be summoned.

He said he's already met with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Chicago Police Department 12th District Cmdr. Dennis Keane, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Grant.

Chicago Police spokesman Roderick Drew said the department has not seen the letter. But in an e-mail, Drew said: "As always, if there is an immediate public safety issue in the City of Chicago, the Chicago Police Department will respond."

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