Sheriff Mendrick has been a DuPage County resident for 37 years, with 25 years of experience serving the citizens of DuPage County. His professional approach, hard work, persistence and sense of responsibility helped Mendrick to rise through the ranks to lead the Sheriff’s Office in DuPage, which is the second largest county in Illinois. Hired in 1996 as a patrol deputy, James rose through the ranks of corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, major, administrative chief before being elected sheriff in November 2018. His office has 400 sworn and 100 civilian employees.

Q. Dear Sheriff Mendrick, thank you for finding time to answer my questions! DuPage County is considered to be one of the safest counties in Illinois, thanks to our police department. However, things still happen. The shooting that took place at Oak Brook mall on December 23 was scary, but police officers from multiple jurisdictions conducted a fast, effective and well-organized response to that crime that led to the arrests of the criminals. What is being done to avoid similar tragedies in the future? What measures were implemented to catch the criminals?

A. The shooting at Oak Brook mall was responded to by MERIT (Metropolitan Emergency Response and Investigative Team). This MERIT team has been in existence since August 1, 2019. It was a major emergency response to that shooting. We were able to clear 20,000 people from Oak Brook mall including the packed movie theater. We cleared out all these people from the mall in a 7 hour period of time looking for suspects, victims or witnesses. The Sheriff’s office and 36 municipal police departments responded to the mall as one cohesive team. Our team works together and responds together as one blended force. That’s why we had so many officers there so quickly. With all that response there were still no witnesses that saw the shooting and the shooting happened to be in an area where there was no camera. I got a call from our State’s Attorney Bob Berlin on Christmas telling me that we were unable to develop any witnesses or any video of the incident. He then said that if we couldn’t develop any binding evidence within a three day period of time we would have to release them due to a lack of evidence. The day after Christmas, five crime laboratory scientists from the DuPage County Crime Laboratory came in and did a DNA analysis of the two guns that we recovered at the crime scene. Within three days those scientists matched the DNA from both suspects' index fingers to the triggers of both handguns. And then they matched the DNA of the palms of both of their hands to the handles of both guns. So, now we had DNA evidence to prove that both of those suspects used both of those guns and we had gun powder residue on the sleeves of the coats of both suspects. That proved without a doubt that they were the two Oak Brook shooters. They were sentenced with one million dollar bonds for each suspect thanks to the hard work of our State’s Attorney Bob Berlin.

Q. Why did it take seven hours to get everybody out of the mall?

A. We had to make sure that all the citizens were safe while we extracted the suspects. We had to make sure that during an incident like that there was no further contact between the citizens and suspects.

Q. Does the DuPage County Sheriff Office have any particular program to create a safer DuPage County?

A. We have a project that is called Vision. We call it VSN, which stands for virtual safety net. We have been just approved by the DuPage County board to purchase 60 license plate reading cameras. This technology has existed for a few years, but we are going to modify the technology to inform us on stolen cars and on wanted people in real time to notify a beat car that a stolen vehicle just entered their patrol area. Now, we are looking to marry the license plate reading technology to drones so we can follow the suspects to their home. This is a new technology which we are hoping to have up and running within 6 to 8 months.

Q. The city of Chicago and Cook County suburbs now require proof of vaccination at restaurants, bars, gyms and entertainment venues. Surprisingly, the DuPage Children’s Museum now requires adults and children 5 and up to be vaccinated against Covid 19. What do you think about all that and will you enforce these measures?

A. I am law enforcement, I am not your doctor. I don’t believe in mandating any medical procedure as a policeman. I think those discussions should be between the patient and their physician. I believe in small government without government overreach. And I do not believe that medical mandates should be thrust upon employees. To be clear, I recommend everybody to be vaccinated, I just don’t believe anyone should be forced into any medical procedure. If you give employers that control over your medical procedures, where does it stop? I think that people who create the mandates should step up and be the ones to answer everybody’s questions, not their employer. Employers aren’t doctors and can’t answer medical questions from their employees.

Q. In your opinion, can these mandates spread across the entire state and particularly in DuPage?

A. It sounds like from recent court cases that it’s going in the other direction.

Q. I read that with the assistance of JUST of DuPage you have developed a unique comprehensive program for men with serious gang affiliations or drug addiction. What kind of an organization is JUST of DuPage, and what are the main objectives of this program?

A. It’s a non-profit, faith based organization that helps the inmates change their lives. We provide a whole continuum of care. We do detox, medicated assisted treatment, and we also have 42 people getting their GED diplomas. We do training. We work with College of DuPage, and the inmates get college credits. To help them get back to society, we give them three suites, we call them “suites for success.” We have decreased the percentage for heroin recidivism from 90% to 18%, and criminality recidivism from 70% to 15%.

Q. I learned that in less than a year, about 10 percent of the correctional facility population have graduated from one of your workforce inmate job training programs. Creating vocational training programs can help incarcerated people be successful upon release. What programs do we have in our county?

A. We offer 80 classes a week, with educational opportunities that provide academic, professional and personal growth through such classes as GED, ESL, Horticulture, Decision Making, Anger Management, Job Readiness, Life Skills and Parenting. Vocational training includes Welding, Custodial Maintenance and Construction Trades.

Q. How do you keep inmates in the Correctional Center safe? Is it even possible to achieve and maintain a zero percent COVID-19 positivity rate among inmates? And is it even necessary, considering that Omicron is not as dangerous as previous variants?

A. We have prevented all outbreaks since this all started before Omicron. We stopped it. The way we stopped it is we utilized our sanitation job training teams to keep the institution sterile. Clean surfaces, clean air, and incubation. We have an incubation floor. Everyone who is new has to be at the incubation floor for 15 days. Omicron didn’t seem to be preventable, but all the cases we had were fairly mild symptoms and we mitigated it well.

Q. Many people have been suffering financially during this pandemic. I heard that you created a program called “It Takes A Village” and that it is related to our county’s senior citizens. Can you please tell me more about it?

A. “It Takes a Village” started when everything got locked down. We got access to food at the restaurants and got it distributed to the homeless and impoverished in DuPage County. The program became so popular that we started working with the Senior Services Council on a program called Meals on Wheels. And we also started working with the Northern Illinois Food Bank and started doing food distribution through the Sheriff's office to residents in need. Last year, we provided food for 45,000 families in need. Four thousand pounds of food went to the local food pantries. We delivered 1000 turkeys and 1000 hams to impoverished families on Thanksgiving. On Christmas Eve, we had hot meals delivered to people in need.

Q. Besides taking care of citizens and inmates, you have to take care of the members of your office. Did you lose some of your employees during these difficult times, or do you have new people coming to serve DuPage?

A. We have lateral hires, and many of our new employees are police officers coming from Cook County or Chicago jobs.Seems like the way the police are treated in Chicago has caused them to migrate to DuPage. And we are happy to givethem a home.

Q. Look at what's happening around the world. Isolation camps in Australia, hotels used as isolation camps in Canada. People are being punished for not wearing a mask, not having the vaccine, or for not having a green pass. They can’t enter buildings and can’t use transportation. What can we do to avoid it in DuPage?

A. It’s one of the things that the police don’t have control of. It’s hard to answer. Law enforcement is in the same boat as all of the citizens. Unfortunately, the mandates come down from entities that are not affiliated with any police entity. I don’t want to be given a responsibility to give any medical advice or enforce anything that is not a law. I do worry about the bigger the government gets, the more citizens resist. I never want to see what’s happening in Australia happen here in DuPage or anywhere in our nation.

Q. Does your office help homeless people in DuPage County and how? Especially during this cold weather.

A. We provide care to homeless people. Today, on Wednesday, January 26 we have care packages, coats ready to be distributed to homeless people in our area. It’s the coldest night of the year with temperatures dropping into negative double digits. Deputies in our Community Resource Unit have been busy packing bags with coats donated by Support Over Stigma and PPE donated by SCARCE. They are ready to distribute these bags during the annual DuPage County Street Count of Unsheltered Persons Experiencing Homelessness.

Q. I know that in 2022 you will run for the DuPage County sheriff position again. I wish you good luck and would like to ask you one more question. You are such an active person, you are doing so much for our county; where do you take your energy from?

A. I am driven by helping people, and each success makes me want to do more. Also, we build some models that possibly can be nationwide examples for cohesion of law enforcement operations and rehabilitative services within our correctional facility. I feel like I am doing God’s work. We have people writing us letters where people are saying that they would be dead or overdose if they weren’t arrested and put in jail where they received our rehabilitative services. It makes me want to do more. We have moved some mountains during these years and we will be moving more. I am very grateful to my staff. I have the best well trained staff that are truly professional that makes my job a lot easier.

Q. Thank you so much for your service, Sir!

A. It’s difficult to add something to this interview, although I do have one thing that I want to say. We are lucky to live in DuPage County, because this county is in good hands.

Natalia Dagenhart