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Episode Transcript

My guest today is Tom Dart, the Sheriff of Cook County. My local sheriff probably seems like an odd choice of someone to bring on the show, but that’s only because you don’t know Tom Dart.

DART: We are the only jail or prison in the country that does not have any variation of solitary confinement.

Welcome to People I (Mostly) Admire, with Steve Levitt.

He’s made Time Magazine’s annual list of the 100 people who shape our world. And he’s one of the most creative public servants that I’ve ever met. I also have an ulterior motive for bringing Sheriff Dart on the show. We’ve been working together on a pilot program that I hope will one day transform criminal justice. It’s a project that could have a bigger social impact than anything else I’ve done in my life.

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LEVITT: So when I hear the word “sheriff,” my mind immediately goes to the wild west, six shooters, cowboys, train robberies. What are your actual responsibilities as a modern day sheriff?

DART: You know, it is actually fascinating because I’ve had at different points in my career reason to research the history behind sheriff to see where it came from. And it really does go all the way back to the days of old in England with the infamous sheriff of Nottingham and so on. And so a lot of the different things that are attached to sheriff have been this constant evolution from the very, very ancient times to today. To be frank with you, there are some vestiges that are very similar to hundreds and hundreds of years ago. So I still have the ability, here in Cook County, to form posses.

LEVITT: How often do you do that?

DART: I have not had reason to do it as of recent. But by statute, the only person who can arrest me for a criminal event is the coroner, which very conveniently in our county, we don’t have one. So look out. But as it’s developed over the years, the sheriff is in charge of whatever jail may be in that county. They are also in charge of operating the security around courthouses and the like. They’re in charge of all the evictions that go on within the county. They often are the ones that do all of the service of process and lawsuits and so on. And then they also have a police element as well. So those are the major parts of the office. But it has evolved dramatically jurisdiction to jurisdiction. And so in some parts of the country there is literally no similarity to us. New York, for example, their sheriff does not run their jail, has very limited roles in most anything. And then you have other ones where, particularly out West, Steve, the sheriff’s the biggest law enforcement entity. And it has allowed, frankly, some of the sheriffs in some of the parts of the country to gravitate towards somewhat perplexing philosophies saying that they are the chief law enforcement agency in the entire state and that they are not liable for any of the laws of the state. You’d hope it was one or two people in a very small little jurisdiction, but they call themselves constitutional sheriffs. And there’s many more of those than you would imagine. 

LEVITT: So at the most basic level, your job is to enforce the law, but I know you, and I know your history, and you sometimes refuse to enforce laws you don’t think are right. I think one example goes back to the tenant evictions that you thought were unfair in the financial crisis. Could you tell us about that? 

DART: Yeah, you know what hit the fan back in 2008. The sheriff’s office being the primary actor in evicting people — primary exclusive actor, frankly. I had for years been going out on evictions myself — and that’s not my traditional background either, Steve. I’m a history major, I went to law school, became a prosecutor for five years, and then was in the legislature. So I’ve never been a police officer. That was not my background.

LEVITT: Wait, so you said you go out on evictions?

DART: Yeah.

LEVITT: So you would knock on people’s door and tell them they had to pack up their stuff? 

DART: Yes. Because I wanted to find out what the reality was. I was new as sheriff and, as I’m sure you can imagine, in an agency as large as ours, 6,000 employees, you get very good people, but you can’t get around the fact that people sometimes tell you what they think you want to hear. And so I made it a point early on to go physically out to every aspect of the office to see where reality met with what I had been told. And I found in the world of evictions, reality in no way met what I had been told. And what I had been led to believe was the norms for evictions.

LEVITT: So what were you told and what was reality?

DART: I’d been told it was just a very proforma process. We get an eviction order, we go to a house, we ask the people to move. They may have already left. We clear out the house, we move on to the next one. And it was a very antiseptic process. When I went out there, it couldn’t have been any further from the truth, Steve. It literally, in my mind, was one of the most barbaric processes I had ever seen that had truly — had not in any way progressed in hundreds of years. 

LEVITT: So tell me, what’s an example? You knock on the door— 

DART: Yeah.

LEVITT: You knock on the door? Or you break it down with a bull?

DART: Frequently, the landlord would be there with keys, so we wouldn’t have to knock it down. But sometimes tenants would put their own locks on, we would have to knock it down. But that was rare. But what I found was when we’d go to these houses, that the individuals that we were interacting with were people that really ran the gamut — from people who knew the court system very well, had been evicted other times, knew how to, in some ways, manipulate the system to extend their stay without paying. And then there were other people who literally didn’t even know they were about to be evicted. When I first started asking questions about the process, I had people in my office very proud to tell me that we’ve really upped our game because we used to go knock on the door, but then we’d have a moving company that would be in charge of taking all the property out. And that we had really gotten on the cutting edge because instead of going out for a low bid, we were able to actually put some requirements in for who they were bringing in as movers. ‘Cause what they were finding out was that the movers were stealing everything. And so one of our big innovations, I was told, was that we required them all to wear jumpsuits with no pockets on them. Yeah, I was overwhelmed as well.

And when I went out then and saw firsthand how it was playing out — we’d go to the door, frequently, it was either a senior citizen or it was a single mom with numerous kids. We would ask them to leave. They would walk out to the street. The moving people would come in, put all their property out on the street, and then we, trying to be efficient, would go off to our next eviction. When I would inquire to my staff, I said, “What happens normally?” And they’d say, “Oh, well, usually the tenant then takes off and looks for a friend or a family member to help them move their things.” And I said, “Oh, really?” And they said, “Oh, yeah. And by the way, when that occurs, usually most of their stuff gets stolen.” And I was like, “And we’re okay with that?” And they’re like, “Well, we have other evictions to do.” I go, “I get that. I get that. I understand that.” But I go, “This couldn’t be any further from what a thoughtful entity would ever do.”

And so I come to find out that we were usually made aware of evictions three to four weeks ahead of time, sometimes even longer. And I said, “Well, why don’t we use that period of time? We’ll send a social worker off to the house. We’ll knock on the door. We’ll talk to the people there. If they have mental health issues, if they’re senior citizens who have a range of issues, often dementia. If it’s a single mom with children, why don’t we talk with them? Explain to them the process, explain to ’em their legal options, but also work with them saying, ‘Listen,’ if in fact they do have to move, ‘can we help you move? Can we get you a list of places you can go to? Can we drive you to places? Can we help you find places to store your property?’” And I had implemented that process and it was just amazing, ’cause I was making it up as I went along, Steve. I assumed that I was probably just copying another jurisdiction, but I was doing this so quickly and on the fly, I didn’t have a chance to look. And then as it was put in place, I asked my staff, I go, “Let’s scan other jurisdictions and see if we can cherry pick some of the things they’re doing.” And in all of the jurisdictions in the country, we were the only ones, other than some variation in San Francisco — we were the only other ones in the entire country that was doing it this way. The rest were doing the exact same thing, which was put ’em in the street, whatever happens, happens. It’s not our issue. They should have paid their rent. Let’s keep moving on. It was horrible.

LEVITT: Now this then comes to a head in the financial crisis because now not only do you have the issue where people aren’t paying the rent, but now you’ve got a bunch of landlords who are defaulting on their mortgages, and then what happens to the tenants when that happens?

DART: So I kept going out with some frequency, I’d say, once every other week. ‘Cause I have this other thing called the jail I have to run. And so I had just a boatload of problems that I was juggling. So I’d go out maybe every two weeks just to see how things were going. And during that time I would always make a point of talking to the residents. I would talk to the landlords. I would talk to everybody who would listen to me and ask them and start probing for questions on how did this happen? What are things that can make it better? And then I would start tweaking what I was doing. I was like, okay, hey, if we get involved with the Department of Aging, we can work with this group and that group. ‘Cause as I had mentioned before, seniors was particularly perplexing ’cause, Steve, I’d go in, the house would just be filled from floor to ceiling with all sorts of papers and you name it. But in addition to which, all sorts of unopened mail that had checks in it that weren’t cashed. And the poor individual, living by themselves, clearly cases dementia here as well. And in one case in particular, this was before I put all the reforms in place, the woman was — I’ll never forget it — we walked her out to the street and she kept walking into traffic. And I had to go out and grab her, bring her back onto the sidewalk and traditionally, we would’ve left. And I said, “We’re not going anywhere, okay? We are going to sit here until we get a hold of someone from her family and we’re not going to walk away.”

And it led me to find out that there was nothing in place. And so I had to put all these sort of things together to help the seniors. Every conceivable thing you can imagine that you would read about that goes on in the population that is underserved, that doesn’t have health insurance, that is struggling day-to-day, I was seeing it. And I can’t tell you how many times I’d go into a house and there’s someone, literally, in there in a hospital bed, stage four cancer. It’s basically hospice care and our order says to put ’em on the street. I just would pick the phone up and say, let me just talk to the landlord. And the landlords, across the board, one was as understanding is the next. They weren’t aware of half of this. And so it was a question of, okay, let’s get everyone in on the loop. And so that was somewhat standard. The reforms had been put in place and then 2008 hits. And as I’m going out, I’m seeing something very different that I hadn’t seen before. I was literally knocking on the door. The people would welcome us in with this very quizzical look on their face of, “Hi Sheriff, nice to see you. Why are you here? Is there something we could help you with?” And I said, “Well, you’re aware of an eviction?” “Uh, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” And people would then bring out their checkbooks and they’d show me they’d been making checks out for months and months. The person in the house paying rent to the guy that owns the house was up to date on it. But long ago, this guy had stopped paying the bank because the interest rates he had used were so high and he’d just given up on it. The bank was saying, “Here, throw these people out. Foreclose on the house.” I was blown away ’cause this was happening all the time. I told my staff, I go, “Guys, ladies, we cannot — we can’t go along with this thing.” 

LEVITT: So these are renters, who No. 1, they’re up to date. They’re paying their rent every single month.

DART: Yes.

LEVITT: And No. 2, they’re not even informed that the house is in foreclosure because their names are probably not written anywhere, right? They’re renting from some guy who hasn’t ever told anyone else — wow.

DART: Yes, literally. You just nailed it, Steve. And this was happening over and over again. And so it was with that, I tried reaching out to the courts.

LEVITT: But the law says these people have no rights. Right?

DART: Correct.  

LEVITT: They are going to be out on the street with all their stuff stolen, just like everybody else.

DART: Correct. And honest to God, I still visualize these families. Family after family. Just average middle class, hard working people, playing by the rules. And yet because of this insanity that’d gone on the real estate market, they were going to be dumped. Where are they going to go? Think about that, from one human to another. Literally a knock on the door and within a half hour you are now looking for a place to live. How thoughtless can we be? And so that was when I said, “Listen, we’re not going to do this.” I had reached out to, as I said, the courts and some other entities to see if anybody could help mitigate this with me. And there was no ability to do that. People were scrambling. No one knew what to do. And so it was at that point I said, “Listen, we are not going to be engaged in this. This is wrong. This is clearly violating people’s due process.” All the rest. I said, “We’re just not going to evict people anymore and I’m going to stop.”

LEVITT: The banks must have flipped, right?  

DART: Oh my God, yes.

LEVITT Because the banks want these people out. They want to take possession.

DART: That was one of the first times I really got into looking into the statute for sheriff. My wife and I have five children. They were quite young at the time, and there was all these motions for a contempt of court seeking to have me locked up because I wasn’t enforcing laws. But that’s got us to researching the statute. And that’s where we found out that I can’t be arrested by anybody. So I was like, “Ah, I got that in my back pocket.” But it was made clear to us that the different entities were not going to stand by and let me do this. It got ratcheted up rather quickly. And the people were very upset to put it lightly.

LEVITT: And you came out looking great, right? You were, named one of Time Magazine’s 100 people who shape our world.

DART: Yeah, that was, that was strange. So we got a lot of attention, which was — frankly, wasn’t really what I was trying to do, but in the end, I was ecstatic that it  put a spotlight on this issue. 

LEVITT: So when Covid hit, did the evictions issue arise again? And did you have to violate the law one more time?

DART: It was interesting because when Covid hit, the fact that we had been doing all of these things for so long had prepared us so that we already had this system in place that was this more thoughtful approach to evictions. So it really didn’t require us to do anything. The courts were wildly engaged and helpful. Our county board was as well. There was a call for moratorium throughout the country, and so they immediately put together moratoriums, but tied it with financial hooks that the federal government, state, and county government all helped too, to help landlords make up for any payments. And because we have this elaborate program on the front end, we are really way out in front of everyone else.

LEVITT: Now, I’m not sure you needed to be emboldened, but you had only been sheriff for a couple years when this happened, and I got to think that positive feedback couldn’t have hurt your taste for doing risky things. So tell me about some of the things you’ve done as sheriff that nobody in their right mind would do. 

DART: Taking the job in the first place, no one in their right mind would do. You are correct though, Steve, because realizing that I could affect change being completely outside the box, it just further emboldened me. It was my calling card forever, to be honest with you, whether as a prosecutor or as a legislator. I drove my own party completely out of their mind when I was in the legislature. They couldn’t wait for me to leave because I was always coming up with the latest, greatest solution to something. This did help though ’cause it let me know that I could try some of these other things and that if I could articulate it properly and show the logic that was underlying it, that the public would be very open to it. And so the jail was always the big issue, when you talk about the sheriff’s office. And so that was something that was ripe to have this different type of mindset layered over it.

LEVITT: You had pets in the jail for a while, right? How did that go?

DART: Still. I’m batting about 95 percent on that, which in a jail world, it’s not too shabby. So we have some wildly cool programs involving dogs. I’m a dog lover myself, but beyond that, I know the therapeutic effect animals have on individuals. And both for the staff and for the detainees, I thought it would be a very positive thing. But then I want to take it in a different direction too, where I wanted to use it as a rehabilitative program for the pets as well. And I’d been wanting to do it for years, and I kept being told by my staff that it couldn’t be done. And I was down speaking at a conference in Tennessee. And the sheriff sitting next to me who had invited me down to speak at this mental health conference, we were just small talking. He was talking about his jail program that Emmylou Harris is involved with. And I said, “Wow, I love her. Is she down there performing?” He said, “No, no, she has a dog program.” And I said, “Stop the presses. I’ve been told by my staff that we can’t do this in a jail.” And he said, “No, no, we’ve been doing it.” He gave me the outlines of it and I said, “You know, Sheriff, I have about a five or six hour drive back to Chicago. I am going to have my program up and running by the time I get back to Chicago.” And we did.

We reached out to the animal control people here. And we take dogs that are otherwise going to be euthanized, often it’s pit bulls and we train our detainees, and most of ’em are in our maximum unit, how to work with dogs to get the aggression to dissipate. And then we bring the dog over to the jail. The dog literally lives in the cell with the detainee. Every day is a very structured day of programming, and so on. And then we put the dogs up for adoption, and we’ve been adopting a ton of dogs that otherwise would’ve been euthanized. In the meantime, these individuals in our custody are not only getting the therapy side of it from the dogs being with them, but they’re also getting this wild sense of accomplishment. We have more programs in any jail or prison in the country. The common thread is getting inside people’s head. Not just teaching ’em how to hammer in that nail and how to weld that part, but to show them how they can accomplish things, how they have value, and how they can contribute. And so the dog program has been wildly successful. I tried a chicken thing, Steve, and wow, that did not work out.

LEVITT: What went wrong with the chicken?

DART: Oh, where do you start? The person that put it together for me — I was really clear with him saying, “Listen, okay, this is cool. We’ll have free range chickens. We can sell the eggs at Whole Foods or something like that. This is great.” I said, “But the bottom line is the program’s got to make money. It’s got to be self-sustaining.” “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” So we had, I think it was six chickens or nine chickens. I come to find out after this thing implodes on me that the reality is that everyone understands, who isn’t a moron, which obviously would be me, that you need to have, I think it’s like three or 600 chickens to break even in an operation like this. And we had like six. So we got rid of chickens.

We’ll be right back with more of my conversation with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

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LEVITT: So let’s talk more about Cook County Jail. It’s a massive complex. How many inmates were there at the peak? Must have been over 10,000, right?

DART: Oh God. On my worst day when I first started, I had about 11,000. And then for the last five or six years, we’ve been pretty much locked in at 5,500, as a result of bond reform that our county did about five or six years ago. So there was a time when I first started, Steve, we were the largest jail in the country. Now, we’re probably still in the top 10, but we’re not the largest anymore. It allows me to do a lot more programming and things like that because I don’t have issues with overcrowding.  

LEVITT: Most people, I’m sure, don’t know the difference between a prison and a jail. A jail holds people before their trial takes place, or after, if they’re convicted with a sentence that’s less than a year. But something like 95 percent of the inmates in Cook County Jail are pre-trial. Right?

DART: Once Covid hit, there was such a massive move to try to keep people out. There was across the board agreement that we aren’t going to even sentence people anymore to the jail. Now, it’s virtually a hundred percent of the people are waiting for their trial. There is a tremendous difference between jails and prisons. It’s not just some obtuse difference. It is at the heart of it. Because if you think about it, a person who has been sentenced to a determinant, period of time, which is all of them — so you get your 20 years, whatever it is — you know to the minute when that person’s going to get released. So if you want to work with them on programs, if you want to work with them on transitions to the community, all the above, you have the playbook in front of you. You know when they’re leaving. Jails? Everyone’s waiting for a trial. You don’t know if the trial’s coming today or tomorrow. You don’t know if they’re going to plead guilty today or tomorrow. You don’t know if they’re all of a sudden going to be able to make bond today or tomorrow. So when you’re trying to put programs together to try to help people, it’s wildly more difficult than if you’re in a prison because you just don’t know who’s with you and for how long.

For that reason, most people who operated jails ran away from programming. They were of the opinion that you’ll never be able to do it right, ’cause you don’t know how long people are going to be here. Well, I started pouring through the data and 85 percent of the people who entered the jail went right back to their community, never going down to prison because either their case was dismissed — it took so long to dispose of the case that they served all their time with me — or they got probation. Because our judges are so notoriously slow here in my custody now, I have over a hundred and some people have been waiting over eight years for their trial. So the reality of Cook County wasn’t what the theoretical notion was, that this is just this quick in and out. And so that became an imperative thing for me then. If I am this funnel where 85 percent of the people coming to that jail, I’m sending back to communities that are already very distressed, I need to dig into each and every one of these people coming in the jail, find out the underlying issues that got them there, issues that can be addressed with me, and then start picking them off. So whether it’s mental health issues, educational issues, job related issues, domestic related issues, the whole menu there, I need to start picking them all off and start addressing those. And so that led me to be this really singularly focused program-directed jail. 

LEVITT: I spent a fair amount of time in Cook County Jail on various projects, and what is most surprising to me is how safe it feels. There’s a strong sense of order. It feels calm. But I’m curious, is my impression of the jail being a calm place, is that backed up by statistics or is that just an illusion that I have?

DART: No, it is statistically driven. I’ve often told people, other than executing somebody, there is nothing more impactful you can do to an individual in any society than incarcerate them. And yet, if you look across the country, jails and prisons have literally no data. They have none. They know the name of the person in your custody. They know what they’re charged with. That’s about it. I was obsessed about data from day one. And so now, we have this robust system that is the envy of literally everybody in the country because we have data that you can’t imagine. With that then I’m able to monitor all these different aspects of it. And so to your point about the sort of orderly approach here, I go through the data constantly on fights, assaults on staff. And all of those numbers, all those data points all show the same thing, which is they’re steadily have been decreasing over the years. And the reason they’ve been decreasing is that we identify what the underlying issues are that are driving them, and then we have a plan and a program that we put in effect. We are the only jail or prison in the country that does not have any variation of solitary confinement. That’s like a huge deal that — my own staff was fighting me on it originally, ‘cause they said, “That’s one of the greatest tools that you have available to you in a jail or prison. And you’re taking it away.” When I did that, it was with the notion of bringing in a more humane, thoughtful approach to how we deal with individuals, but with this underlying notion that things that I had read extensively about, showed that you would actually find that the results across the board are going to be better. And the data that we have all shows that. Assaults on staff have plummeted.

LEVITT: What’s a number? What would be the number of assaults on staff last month?

DART: I want to say it was in the range of 15 to 20. We have on a monthly basis, maybe one or two where they’re very violent. Where someone grabs a correctional officer by the throat or hits ’em from behind. Those are smaller. The bigger ones, and we will list them as assault, it’s not for any particular nasty reason, but it’s like pushing the chest, and pushing the officer back, things like that. So it runs a little bit of a gamut. But all of our data that we’ve accumulated over the years have shown all of that dropping by substantial numbers. Just today, I was having my jail meeting and we break it down division by division, tier by tier, so that it isn’t just something where we look at and say, “Oh, violence is up across the jail,” or, “Violence is down across the jail.” No, where is it? Is it relegated to one living unit? If it is, do we have a gang-related problem on that living unit? Is there something there that we need to either split people up again or is it something where we need to bring intervention into there? So your feeling is not misguided. It is become a much less violent place than it ever was. We’d stack our place up against anybody. But you can’t find the numbers, Steve. So if you wanted to compare like my assaults on staff and violence numbers against any other jurisdiction, good luck. They don’t keep it.

LEVITT: So talking about this reminds me of a story from one of my early jail visits. it must have been around the year 2000 or 2001. So before you were sheriff. And I was teaching an undergraduate course on the economics of crime. And I wanted to expose my students to real life, not just academic papers. So every year, I’d bring eight or 10 students and we’d visit the jail. The first few visits were highly circumscribed, limited tours, no contact whatsoever with inmates. But as the team at the jail got to know me better, they became more relaxed. And so on our third visit, the deputy leading the tour, she says to us, “Would you like to meet some of the inmates?” And of course, I said, “Sure.” And she unlocks this huge metal door that leads into a pod with inmates. So it’s one prison guard, it’s me and seven or eight incredibly nerdy U. Chicago undergrads, mostly female students. And you know me, I’m a scrawny, weak guy, but I was probably the brawniest one in the group.

DART: Not reassuring, Steve.

LEVITT: We walk into the pod and the roughly 20 inmates immediately drop whatever they’re doing — this is unusual for them to have a bunch of kids walk into their pod. They drop everything they’re doing and they start walking towards us. My students are literally cowering behind the one prison guard who’s still standing by the door. But I feel like I had to lead by example. So I walk right out towards the 20 inmates. And now it’s me with the semi-circle of extremely intimidating inmates around me, all staring at me. Nobody’s saying anything. And I’m not prepared. It all happened so quickly and unexpectedly. And to break the tension, I just blurted out the first thing that came into my mind. And to the guy closest me, I look him in the eye and I say, “What are you in for?” And he says, “First-degree murder.” And that is a conversation stopper if I’ve ever heard one. But I have to say something. So I ask, “When’s your trial?” And he says, “Well, hopefully not for another two or three years.” And I’m confused. I ask, “Why, hopefully?” And he explains, he likes it in the jail. It turns out this particular pod was a Christian pod and these 20 inmates have been self-selected to come into it. And they got along great and he knew he’d be found guilty and he’d be sent down state to a prison that would be much worse. So he was using every legal tactic he could find to delay his trial. And so I ended up talking to him for a long time and it was like talking to anyone you meet on the street. He had hopes and dreams and a family. He just happened to be a murderer. And up to that point, I have to say I had been a pretty hardcore “lock ‘em up” advocate. And I think that conversation marked the beginning of my path to a more nuanced view of things.

DART: We give tours that anybody wants to come into the jail because I often tell ’em, I go, it’s the only way that you can get your arms around the reality, not what’s on T.V., not what’s in a movie. And then you can begin to understand that different people get there for different reasons. And is there evil in this world? Yes, there is. Are there evil people in the jail? Yes, there are. Is that the smaller group of people? Yeah, it is. The reality of it is when you start walking through with some of these people and why they’re there, you find out, okay, well that is understandable. I would never agree that you should shoot and kill somebody. But now I know how you got into that situation. Prior to Covid, I used to wander around the jail with a great deal of frequency. I would talk with my staff, but I would also sit and talk with the detainees all the time, and I would just pepper them with questions. And it really ran the gamut as to, what is your family like? How long you been in the place? How’s the food? What led you here? Are you a member of a gang? Are you not?

I’ll never forget, Steve. Early on when he became sheriff, I sat down in Division 11 in the living unit. And I was talking to the detainees and the one guy, his name was Mr. Cunningham. He goes, “Sheriff, I just want to, you know, this jail has never been this good.” And I told him, I go, “Well, A, I appreciate that. B, doesn’t make me feel good ’cause that means you obviously have been here before.” He goes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve been here a couple times.” He goes, “But I’m getting out. I’m getting out.” I said, “Really?” I go, “You got family?” “Oh yeah, I got two little boys and, oh, I need to get back there because these streets are tough these days. And not only could they get shot, but they can get sucked in by the gangs. So I need to get back and take care of my kids.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s good. That’s good.” And I said, “Well, good luck and I hope we won’t see you.” And he sat and paused for a second and I go, “You don’t think you’re going to come back?” He goes, “Ah, Sheriff, I’ll probably come back.” And it was really a thoughtful response. I go, “Why is that? Now you’ve told me that you want to be back there for your family. Why are you coming back?” He said, “Well, you know, Sheriff, I’m not blaming anybody, it’s all on me. But I never finished school. And so my ability to get a job is very limited.” “But,” he goes, “they’re always looking for someone to stand on a corner and deal dope.” He goes, “I can make a lot of money doing that. I’ll probably get caught again and I’ll probably be back in here.” And I remember I looked at him and said, “Well, Mr. Cunningham, if we can help, let me know. If we can help you with job. If we can give you some skill opportunities, let me know.”

And I remember walking away from him saying to myself, nothing he said was illogical at all. This wasn’t an evil, bad person. Quite the contrary. And so it just got me really rethinking some other aspects of it. I often tell people, we don’t need to go down the road of is this person evil? Is it not evil? The question is more: is he getting out? If the answer is yes, which is the vast majority, do we want them to be in a better position than when they got in? And if that answer is yes, then it’s like, we got to tackle their mental health issues, their educational issues, job issues, their ability to have anger management, to work with their children. We have fatherhood classes. We do the whole range of things because it’s like we have to get engaged with fixing these problems, not just spewing more people out of a jail into a community, no intervention. And then puzzled, scratch our heads. I wonder why this isn’t getting any better? Well, how could it get any better? You idiot.

LEVITT: So people listening might be thinking, well, yeah, it’s easy for the sheriff to come on your show and to say these and it’s probably doesn’t reflect reality, but let me tell another story about my experience in the jail, which is consistent with what you’re saying. It was before I’d ever met you. I was working on a project with a woman named Hanke, who you obviously know well. Hanke was one of the most senior people running the jail, and we were trying to make some changes to how inmates were released to ease their transition back into everyday life. And I asked some question of Hanke, I don’t remember what it was, and she said, “Oh, that just came up at office hours this week.” And I asked what she meant by office hours. And she said, “Well, that’s the time I set aside each week where any inmate can come with a problem and talk to me and then I try to solve it.” This was office hours like I have for my undergrads, but for the people in the jail, for the detainees. And I was so stunned really awed by that because it isn’t how I ever imagined our criminal justice system would work. And you only hear about the bad parts, the callousness and the abuse of power. Look, I dread my office hours. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t have them. The fact that she would sit and have one detainee after another come and talk about problems, that was very powerful for me. 

DART: Well, you know it’s so funny, Steve. I’ll see I have some time in my schedule. And I was like, okay, you know, I haven’t been to division six in a while and I’m going to head over there. It’s this constant notion of talking with people, finding out what the issues might be, or then picking people’s brains to find out a better way to get at. My staff has come up with just amazing ideas. These frontline correctional officers will say, “Sheriff, you ever think of trying this?” And I was like, “Let’s give that a whirl.” When a person comes into our custody, we do this massive download, interviews, saying, okay, what are the issues here? And then with that, I assign people based on where we can have the biggest impact on them. And it’s been remarkable. Particularly in the mental health issue. So we put together this case management system. So even after you’ve left my place and we have no hook into you, no custodial right to even be talking to you, we’re case managing you. I have vehicles that I’ve been able to obtain, mostly legally, I use those to transport people so that if a guy or a woman who’s been in my custody, who’s no longer connected to me needs a ride to their appointment for their mental health doctor that they go to, to their counselor that they go to, they just call us and we drive ’em there and we pick ’em up. ‘Cause it’s like, what charlatans we’d be, if we make these big promises while you’re in custody with us, “We’re here for you, we’re working on this,” and then we cut you loose and we know that the services in the community aren’t there. So we’re really, really in that mindset of identify, fix, address, and stay with folks.

LEVITT: There used to be a robust mental hospital network back in the ‘50s and we just as a country decided to dismantle it. I was looking at the data a few weeks ago. There at one point were over 500,000 beds devoted to state-run mental hospitals. And that’s now down to 35,000. The population has doubled over the time when this has happened. So essentially we cut the number of beds to less than a 10th at the same time that population has doubled. And effectively, you now run one of the biggest mental hospitals in the world at Cook County Jail, but without the facilities or the staff or the resources you’d want to do it.

DART: Yeah. In 44 of the 50 states, the largest mental health provider in that state is a jail or a prison. Listen, were there issues with the mental health hospital system back in the ‘50s? Yes, there were. Absolutely there were. But what happened was is they eliminated the hospitals and never put the community system together. So truthfully, we have criminalized mental illness because people are committing acts that are not based on them being a bad person. Because of their mental illness, they have stolen something. Because of their mental illness, they’re sleeping on an L platform. And we then bring them into criminal custody. So a person with an objective illness, everyone agrees once they’re examined, there’s a mental illness. And we’re locking them up. And there’s no sane person that would sit there — a psychologist, psychiatrist — who would sit there and say, “Based on this person’s mental illness, I’m going to put him in a setting with other individuals with a wide range of illnesses and for an undetermined period of time and 23-hours-a-day, put him in a room by himself.” That’s what we do. So we’ve criminalized mental illness. And I’ll often tell people, I go, “What thoughtful society would ever do that? And if we’re going to do that, why in God’s name stop there? Hey, let’s go after those diabetics. You know what? They’re really, really starting to get under my skin. They’re costing us a lot of money. We’re going after them next. And after that, people with heart conditions. Wow. They’re taking up so much space at those hospitals. Let’s criminalize that too then.” Why in God’s name do we draw this distinction between this illness and say, “We’re going to lock these people up in the most horrific way possible and not treat them, ignore it, make it worse. These folks here, we’re going to welcome them to the hospital. We’re going to invite them into a doctor’s office to get treatment. We’re going to stick with them. We’ll come up with subsidies so that their medicine isn’t expensive, and we’ll make sure that they have insurance.” This is absurd, and it’s every reason we have to fear that posterity is not going to be kind to us.  

LEVITT: And the irony is that in the 1800s, the history buffs who are listening will remember the name Dorothea Dix, who was an advocate for the mentally ill and got them out of prisons because it was so inhumane to put the indigent mentally ill into prisons. And she succeeded in doing that. And now we’re right back to the 1850s.

DART: We are, Steve. We absolutely are. When I became sheriff, I’ll never forget walking into one of the living units and I looked around and there was all of these men wandering around, covered in blankets and towels, wandering aimlessly, some just standing in the corner. People wrapped in cocoons on their bed. And I remember asking someone, “What is this?” “Oh, this is mostly all mentally ill, but we got 10 more of these and then we got other ones.” And I just remember saying to myself, “We’re a mental health hospital.” And so that’s when I told people, I go, “Listen, if you’re going to make me be the largest mental health provider in the state, we’re going to be the best mental health provider in the state.” And so I just started hiring more and more mental health providers to the point where my last two directors of my jail have been psychologists, female psychologists.

LEVITT: Another visit I had to the jail — this one more, more recently — I was coming to learn about another program you put into place called SAVE, that’s the Sheriff’s Anti-Violence Effort. As an example, again, of how safe the jail feels, in the middle of the day, it was outdoor time for the inmates, and I was just standing there amongst hundreds of inmates, no guard even watching over me. And I got to talking to one of the inmates who was in the SAVE program, a young man, maybe 25. And he had carried out a series of armed robberies. So the SAVE program has has many different elements to it. And I asked him what parts he had found most useful. And without a second’s hesitation, he says, “Oh, the therapy sessions, for sure.” And then without any prompting, he says, “I haven’t cried once since I turned 10-years-old. But I cry like a baby every single week in therapy.” And when I hear something like that, it just makes me think so differently about these young men. They’ve done horrific crimes, many of them. They seem so hard on the outside, but at the same time, many of them have just been brutalized, traumatized by their life circumstances and it’s not easy to help these men so late in the game, or even to know how to help the next generation. But it sure feels like an important problem when you’re in the middle of it.

DART: Yeah, and you know what, Steve? It’s funny because we have always left ourselves with really this sort of binary choice that you either are tough on crime or soft on crime. And I often tell people, I go, “You’re really misunderstanding it. Let’s talk about the pragmatic side. They are getting out. Do you want to make this better or not? If you’re really interested in doing that, let’s start peeling apart this thing and getting at the underlying reasons for this person’s abhorrent behavior and see if we can drill into this thing.” And so my latest one, Steve, I started reading about the impact on children of having a family member who’s incarcerated. The studies are all consistent; one’s more bleak than the next, as far as what this does to these children. And I knew that I have thousands of children coming and visiting people in the jail. And that most visiting structures are as horrific as you can imagine. It’s like a bulletproof glass, a little stool. You’re two inches away from another family that’s having their own issues; they’re all yelling at each other. So I changed the structure to where all of our visitations are face-to-face across the table. We have books and toys all in that area, but the new structure is going to have a whole different theory behind it. I have all these rooms I’ve designed off of the visiting side of it where it’s going to be for children to get hearing evaluations, children to get educational evaluations if they choose to. Children who might have a mental health issue, their parent can come and talk to us and have someone on staff there who can do an evaluation if they need it. Really to run the whole range of things you want to do to try to work with this child now, to turn this into a positive interaction where we’re using this to try to make things better. And we’ve already seen a lot of really good things coming out of it. We just started it like a year and a half, two years ago. But I’m really just completely making it up as I go along. We don’t know of anyone in the country who’s doing this.

You’re listening to People I (Mostly) Admire with Steve Levitt and his conversation with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. After this short break, they’ll return to talk about electronic monitoring.

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I promised at the beginning of this episode that we’d talk about a pilot program that I’ve been doing with the Sheriff. Now, most people, when they first hear about the program, they have a negative reaction. So I’m curious to see whether we can succeed today in communicating why both the sheriff and I are so excited about its potential impact.

LEVITT: For a long time I’ve believed that G.P.S. technology could transform the criminal justice system. And the idea is really simple. We know that people rarely commit crimes if they know for sure they’ll get caught. For instance, nobody commits a robbery in front of a police officer. So if we could use G.P.S. to track a potential criminal’s movements, we could cross reference his or her location at some particular time with crime incidents using databases that police departments already assemble. Chicago and many other cities, for instance, have installed beacons on the top of buildings to triangulate the precise location of gunshots that occur. So using G.P.S., you could determine exactly who was at the scene of the crime and use the G.P.S. not only to identify those people, but to find them and to question them within a few minutes. Okay, so that’s all fine, but here’s where things get really interesting. One of the main reasons we keep people locked up in jail is that we’re afraid of what they’ll do in terms of crime when we release them. But if G.P.S. tracking greatly reduces the crime they’ll do, we could let a huge share of the incarcerated population free with little impact on crime rates. And it’s just a huge win for society. It saves the government enormous amounts of money, and it gives released detainees a new chance at life, especially since they know they can’t commit crimes because they’ll get caught for sure and it encourages them to make good choices. And the only real downside is the privacy issue. The government’s tracking the released prisoner’s every movement. But, you know, if the choice is to have the government track your movement or to be locked up in prison, people will choose G.P.S. tracking every single time. That’s obviously an incredibly superficial discussion of a complicated issue, but I really believe if people understood the logic and it was implemented thoughtfully and compassionately, that this is something both the right and the left should love. Well anyway, I’ve had this idea for a long time, but I didn’t have any way to test it. So I asked you, Sheriff, for a meeting and you were kind enough to make some time. Now, I hadn’t told you ahead of time that the topic I wanted to talk about was what they call electronic monitoring in the criminal justice world. And you probably don’t remember the first thing you said at that meeting when we were sitting around the table and I said I wanted to talk about electronic monitoring.

DART: I can’t recall.

LEVITT: So you said something like, “There’s nothing I hate more than electronic monitoring.” And I thought, oh my God, this is the biggest waste of time ever. Why did you hate electronic monitoring so much?

DART: Unbeknownst to you at that time, I had really just had this incredible disaster dropped on my lap, which is namely that we had always operated an electronic monitoring program. Before I became sheriff, there was one. It was a basic one for drug offenders. And if they had run away from the house or cut their device off, we would eventually find ’em, but no harm because they’re a drug offender. If they’re leaving, they’re probably just going to go harm themself by getting more drugs. Well, at the time you and I were talking, our judiciary, with never talking to me at all, had completely transformed who they were sending onto home monitoring from these non-violent offenders to violent offenders. And unbeknownst to you, I never needed your help more than when you walked in that door because this all was happening at about the same time.

LEVITT: So what I think people will find unbelievable is that this was only three years ago when we started this program. But at that time, both Cook County and virtually every jurisdiction in the country were using something called R.F.I.D. technology. Basically, you put a beacon in somebody’s house and an ankle bracelet on their ankle, and if they went more than X number of feet away from that beacon, it would send a signal to your deputy saying, this person is gone. Except it’s completely crazy in a world when you have G.P.S., because it didn’t do your deputies any good. They’re gone, but you can’t find them ’cause you don’t have a technology to actually track ’em down. You don’t know whether they’ve gone to the backyard to play with their kids or whether that they’re, they’re halfway across town. And with so many false positives, a lot of people don’t get reception in their basement. Literally, as I understand it, your deputies spent their entire day chasing down false positives from these beacons. And it makes complete sense why you hated that program. What doesn’t make any sense to me is how the industry in this day and age could be living off a technology that was invented in the 1940s and casting almost a complete blind eye to G.P.S.

DART: If you think about a system as a whole that people don’t care about, you certainly aren’t looking for it to be on the cutting edge of technology, you certainly aren’t looking for it to cost any real money.

LEVITT: So in that meeting I didn’t know you very well. I mean, people listening now have a sense that you’ll try anything. I didn’t really know that about you at the time.

DART: Steve, I always tell people, I go, “Hey, it’s the criminal justice system. How could we conceivably screw it up any worse than it is?”

LEVITT: But to my great amazement, I laid out that vision I had of a very different electronic monitoring system. And at the end of the meeting, you turn to your chief of staff who’s at the table and you said, “Figure out who the hundred most dangerous people are that we’ve got on electronic monitoring right now and I want G.P.S. enabled bracelets on them by next week.” And that was maybe one of the most triumphant moments I’ve had in four or five years that I’ve been running my center at the University of Chicago. And it took a year, not a week before we actually got bracelets on people but for the last three years we’ve been working together, we cut through the legal issues and the contracting and, we’ve been able to turn this into big success. I just looked at the data. We’ve had about 15,000 people come through the program, a total of about 7,000 person years of wearing the devices. And these are hardcore criminals, like you’re saying, gun crimes, homicide charges, but they’ve committed almost no crime. The thing we measure best, of course, is homicide. And these 15,000 people on G.P.S., they have committed eight homicides, which is obviously eight homicides too many, but these eight homicides represent less than half-of-1 percent of the total homicides in Chicago over this time period. And the homicide rate for the people on our bracelets is actually way below the average for all young men in Chicago, even though the people who are wearing our bracelets are wearing them precisely because they’re the people most at risk for this kind of violence. So we’re seeing about one homicide for every 1,000 person-years of time that somebody’s wearing a G.P.S.-enabled bracelet. And I’m not sure even you or I would’ve expected such good results given the backgrounds of the people on the program.

DART: No, we wouldn’t have. When you have like domestic related homicides, there’s nothing that you can do to predict that. But the reality of it is there’s certain types of events that there’s very limited things that you can do to stop them. And so when people are on the device, when the devices are on, following up on what your hypothesis was, they don’t commit crimes standing in front of a police officer by and large. And they don’t commit ’em when they have these devices on. And so we’re seeing that play itself out.

LEVITT: The other hypothesis I had on the front end is that this program was going to free up a lot of time for your deputies to do more useful things than chase down false positives. Has that been true?

DART: Yeah. So over the course of, literally, oh God, like 20 years, I think it goes back now, maybe a little longer, we’ve had people go AWOL from the program. And it always was a number that stayed somewhat constant at about 400, which mind you, given the thousands and thousands of people on the program is not a staggering number. But since we’ve been able to free up people’s time, that number has dropped down to just a little bit over 200 and we’re on pace to drop it below that in the coming year. But the other part of it too, Steve, it’s much like I’m program oriented in the jail, just because you’re out on home monitoring, I want programs to go into your house. So the same issues that used to make you incarcerated, that sent the flags flying for me, saying this person needs a mental health treatment. This person needs anti-violence counseling, this person needs anger management. That still applies to you on E.M. And so we are having a greater ability now to take services out to the homes to try to address those issues as well. Which before we couldn’t have been doing it ’cause we’re too busy running over to someone’s house to find out he was taking the garbage out.

LEVITT: And there are at least two other ways in which these new E.M. program helps the people who are being monitored. The first is that they have an airtight alibi, against being accused of a crime they didn’t commit. If they weren’t at a place, they weren’t at a place. That’s actually, for some people quite valuable. The other is that the kinds of policies you needed in place under the old R.F.I.D. system, like around jobs, ended up being incredibly damaging to people’s job prospects, right? Because the judge would pass an order saying this person would be on home monitoring and they could still do their job. But in order to check that out, you had to send a deputy to go to the workplace, full uniform gun and everything, and because you were so busy chasing false positives, it would take a couple weeks, before the deputies could catch up. So basically these people who had got arrested but still had a job and still gainfully employed, wouldn’t be able to go to their workplace for two or three weeks until the deputy had been there. And then, the deputies shows up and basically tells the employer that the person’s been arrested. And essentially, it was a jobs program that led to everybody losing their job. But the beauty of G.P.S. is the judge says you can go to your job. They write the address and job in the order.

DART: We know where it’s at.

LEVITT: Nobody has to go there. We just look every day. If you’re going to your job, no problem. And that’s, to me, the way you use technology to make the world a better place. It’s just better for everybody. I think it’s easy to get lost and to think this is punitive or whatever, but it’s actually part of this much more holistic way of trying to integrate criminal justice into making people’s lives better. It’s what you’re all about.

DART: Yeah. And, you know, Steve, I’ve heard these arguments about, oh, this is just another form of incarceration and that. These folks are so misguided. I mean, option B is actually incarcerated. So I think we’d all agree that’s not the route to go. But the other point there is, trust me, even with all this innovation and all the help it’s given us to free us the time, we’re wildly busy. Do you honestly think that we or any other entity is sitting there watching your client as they go from point A to point B to C and D? No, we’re not. The only time we are interested in that is when someone deviates from where they’re supposed to be or when there’s a crime committed in that general area. Otherwise, no. There isn’t like this massive data dump where we’re sitting there saying, “Oh, let’s go see what he’s doing in his free time.” I suppose we could play that game and, this is 1984 and everyone’s being watched and all the rest of this stuff. That is so far from the reality and everyone knows that.

LEVITT: How do you get along with the other sheriffs? Are you the black sheep?

DART: Yeah, it is actually pretty comical. The sheriffs, one’s nicer than the next, but to say we’re from different planets really is the understatement. I went down to a conference, six months ago, whatever it was. Wildly neat sheriff came up to me. He was asking me some question, ’cause we were in the news and I explained. He goes, “Sheriff, this was my big issue for the month.” And he pulls up his phone and shows me a picture of his squad car that’s all mangled in the front. And next to it is a dead cow. And he said, “Yeah, we hit a cow again. Boy can they destroy a vehicle.” As I say, one’s nicer than the next. We are usually on completely different poles. Not because good, bad, it’s because my issues are completely different. Are most of the sheriffs from, you know, red counties you would call it? Yeah, but it really never plays into it as such. When I first became sheriff, I didn’t have gray hair and I went down to the first sheriff’s meeting and I had a hard time getting in. And then when I got in, not trying to be mean or anything, but some Sheriff gave me his coat ’cause he thought I was working at the hotel where they’re having the conference. And I was like, “No, I’m a sheriff too.” He said, “Oh, really?” He goes, “You don’t dress like one.” I was like, “No.” ‘Cause I’ve never ever worn a uniform in my life. It’s not my schtick. And he’s like, “Wow. Where are you from?” “Cook County.” “Oh, you’re him?” I go, “Yeah, that’s me.”

I find so many things to admire about Tom Dart. His creativity, his dedication to public service, his willingness to try anything, and the fact that he changes his mind when faced with new evidence. But the thing I admire most is that he takes the time to talk to the people whose lives he’s affecting. Who would have thought that a sheriff with thousands of employees would routinely carry out evictions in person? Or wander around talking to inmates in the jail. And he really listens and changes his policies based on what he hears. It’s something few people with power do because it requires real effort and most importantly, humility, a trait that’s in very short supply.

LEVITT: And now’s the time to answer a listener question. And as always, I’m helped by my producer, Morgan. So hello, Morgan.

LEVEY: Hey, Steve. So a listener named Nick wrote in. He has a question about a paper that was recently published in the journal Nature, which claims that science in its current state is less disruptive than in the past. Are you familiar with the paper, Steve?

LEVITT: Well, I wasn’t until Nick wrote in, but in response to his email, I went and read the paper. It’s definitely not the first research to have this view of science. I think within this field of the history of science, almost everybody believes what they’re finding is true, that the science being done today, it’s just a lot less disruptive than the science that was being done 50 or 70 years ago. 

LEVEY: Can you explain what they mean when they say it’s “less disruptive”?

LEVITT: Well, what they mean narrowly is that the new papers that are being published today are having less of an influence on future papers and what those future papers cite. So a really disruptive paper — like Watson and Crick’s seminal work that showed that D.N.A. was in the form of a double helix is really disruptive because all the models people proposed before them, suddenly they’re irrelevant and nobody will cite those papers anymore. So that’s really disruptive research. So you got to be careful, though, that you don’t use “disruptive research” and “good research” as synonyms, because I suspect that some of the best research in economics, like what was done by Kahneman and Tyversky or Thaler in bringing psychological insights into how economists think about the world — those were really important papers, but I don’t think they rate high on this narrow definition of disruption.

LEVEY: Okay, so you said that people who study this field really feel like this is probably very true and most research is coming to this same conclusion. But for someone who hasn’t studied this like you, but has spent their life in academia, does this ring true or feel true to you?

LEVITT: Well, if I look specifically at economics, which I know something about, then I think I would come to the conclusion that probably every aging academic has come to since the beginning of time, which is that the generation that did economics before me, they were brilliant. My generation, it was pretty good. The generation after me. Ugh. They’re not very good at all. And I think they’re tainted and biased by the aging process that there’s no truth to it. So it’s an interesting case where I think my ability to judge what’s happening in economics is probably even worse than my ability to judge what’s happening in science more broadly. My broader take on science is No. 1: It seems to me that there have been incredible improvements over time, in how easy it is to do research. The barriers have just fallen away, so there’s better computing power, there’s better access to data. Information is online and readily available. And if it’s easier to do good research, there should be more good research being done. And the second thing that I observe in the world around me, is that it seems like the science being done today is very different than the science being done 30 years ago, and it’s amazing. There’ve been incredible improvements. So if you think about innovations like mRNA that allowed us to get Covid vaccines and CRISPR and the new telescopes that are gathering information we never had before. All in all, I’m pretty bullish on science. It seems like we’re doing pretty well.

LEVEY: So going back to this paper’s thesis that there’s less disruptive new research than there used to be. Are there any policy implications from this paper?

LEVITT: I have a friend who thinks about this a lot, Eric Gilliam. In his view, and I think it’s shared by others, is that it’s not necessarily that within a given field of science we’ve become less innovative or less disruptive. It’s just that it’s become harder and harder to create new fields from scratch. And that’s partly because of progress and partly because of silos within science. And I think there is a lot of evidence that the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health, who fund a lot of the science research, they’re conservative. They tend to fund projects that are pretty safe. So one possible public policy recommendation, which sounds like a great one to me, is would there be a way to use funding to try to encourage really creative people to try to create new fields? And I think the best case study I can think of is someone we’ve had on the show a couple times — Sendhil Mullainathan is a great example of the kind of researcher we want to create. He jumps around between economics and computer science and data science. Sendhil’s very special. But to the extent that we could find special people like Sendhil and really encourage those people to take chances and to do wild thinking, that seems to me like a great way to spend a chunk of our science budget. 

LEVEY: Nick, thanks so much for the question. If you have a question for us, we can be reached at That’s It’s an acronym for our show. Steve and I really do read every email that’s sent and we look forward to reading yours.

Today’s episode is the 100th installment of People I (Mostly) Admire. And in honor of that landmark, we thought it would make sense in our next episode, two weeks from now, to take a look back at some of the best and the worst moments from the past two-and-a-half years. There certainly have been plenty of both. And we’d like you to participate by sending in a voice memo! Tell us about a moment in one of our past episodes that inspired you to do something or change something in your life — did you quit something? Did you contact a past mentor to express your gratitude? Or anything else, good or bad. If an episode of PIMA inspired you to take action, tell us about it. But instead of a written email, we’d like you to record a voice memo using your phone. Try to record in a quiet place and try to keep it under a minute in length. You can send your voice memo to our email address:, that’s And write “PIMA Action” in the subject line so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. You may just hear your memo in our next episode. As always, thanks for listening.

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People I (Mostly) Admire is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, No Stupid Questions, and Freakonomics M.D. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was produced by Morgan Levey and mixed by Jasmin Klinger. Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. Our executive team is Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, and Stephen Dubner. Our theme music was composed by Luis Guerra. To listen ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. We can be reached at, that’s Thanks for listening.

DART: I go, instead of suing me, can you just tell me what you wanted me to do and I’ll try it? And they were like, “No, no, we’d rather sue you.”

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  • Tom Dart, Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois.



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