Sylvester Baker, Jr. officially announced his candidacy for Cook County Sheriff at a press conference on Oct. 21, held at Home of Life Baptist Church, 4630 W. Madison, where Rev. Johnny Henderson is pastor.

Baker’s background includes Cook County Jail corrections officer, supervising sergeants in the gang crimes unit and receiving a Real Life 40 award. Baker began his law enforcement career in 1982 and worked up through the ranks until 1985 when he was selected to attend the sheriff’s police academy.

Surrounded by a host of clergy, businessmen and community activists, Baker answered questions for Austin Weekly News:

What changes would you make first in the Sheriff’s Department?

“The first thing I am going to do is conduct an audit to make sure I know where everything is – vehicles, personnel assignments and make sure they are not ghost payrolling. A complete audit is the first order of business. The first change I would like to make in the department is actually to revise the training curriculum in the training academy and implement a police certification program for the recruits coming in. Police certification is going to be one of my major concerns, to elevate the level of professionalism in the Sheriff’s Department.

“Another thing I would like to do is implement a county-wide policing strategy. We will have officers assigned to suburban Cook County and to the city of Chicago working in partnership with the Chicago Police Dept., with a major emphasis on high-crime areas such as Englewood, Roseland, Lawndale and neighborhoods that are experiencing a high level of violence. I also will be forming a domestic violence unit, an undercover unit and establishing an 800 hotline number where any resident in Cook County can call to report any type of illegal activity.”

What should the citizens expect from your administration?

“Citizens should expect courtesy. We’re going to have a people-friendly department. My law enforcement personnel are going to incorporate in the training a social-worker philosophy. We’re not going to come out and act like police all the time. We will try to get to know our young people and get to know those citizens on the street. Instead of having an us-versus-them attitude, we’re going to come out with a social-worker attitude.”

How would you have handled the Burr Oak Cemetery crisis?

“This problem could have been detected at least 2-3 years earlier. The Sheriff’s Department has a duty to patrol all unincorporated Cook County. Cemeteries in suburban Cook County are in unincorporated Cook County, so had the department been patrolling Burr Oak, I’m not going to say those four individuals would not have committed the crime. What I’m clearly saying is we would have detected the crime much earlier. If there were mounds of dirt and bones all in the roadway, a policeman has a suspicious nature. We would have detected something was wrong had we been patrolling the cemetery as we are supposed to by policy and procedures, so the sheriff surely dropped the ball, and the media is not going to call him on the carpet on that.”

What ideas or solutions do you have for the youth violence that is happening?

“Ideally, if we had the money, let’s give them all jobs. We need to put a lot of youth programs in place. Make sure that Cook County puts mentoring programs in place that will consist of leadership training, anger management, conflict resolution. I’m also a strong proponent of sports; our young people love sports and talent shows. They love to rap and dance. I’m not saying they are going make a career out of sports, dancing or rapping, but I think it would be a strong [incentive] to keep a lot of our young people off the streets if we get them involved in talent shows, sports and things of that nature.”

Baker was introduced to the media by longtime pastor and activist Rev. Paul Jakes Jr., pastor of Old St. Paul M.B. Church, 531 N. Kedzie. Baker introduced himself as the Democratic candidate for the office of sheriff. He stated, “It is time for new leadership. The Sheriff’s Office is not the personal property of the 19th Ward. It belongs to the citizens of Cook County. When elected, I will do things different from the current sheriff. The current sheriff has his priorities all screwed up. He places cyber-space prostitution and dog fighting above public safety. If he can conduct a raid in the Englewood community to prevent dog fighting, the same sheriff can put officers on the streets of Englewood to help save the lives of our children.”

Baker retired from the Sheriff’s Department in 2003 and currently works as a public safety officer for the city colleges of Chicago. He also manages his own real estate firm, Baker Realty, and has done volunteer work with several community organizations, including Rainbow Push Coalition, National Black United Front and the South Side branch of the NAACP, where he served as treasurer from 2000-2006. For more information, contact communication director and former WLS talk show host Nate Clay at 773-737-3678 or the campaign office 773-952-6210.