EAST VILLAGE — It's official: Cook County sheriffs are working out of a former police station on Wood Street and if you've been on Division Street lately, you've likely noticed a few of their squad cars parked there too.
"They're eating in our restaurants and driving on our streets," Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) told a small crowd of residents at an Open House this week to welcome about 100 sheriff's deputies and clerks to their new headquarters at 937 N. Wood St. in East Village.
The building was once used by the Chicago Police Department but was closed last December due to budget cuts. The officers from the station were consolidated with the 12th District to create a Near West District, located at 1412 S. Blue Island Ave. on the border of Little Italy and Pilsen neighborhoods.
The plan to transfer the Sheriff's Central Warrants Unit to the 9,000 square-foot building on Wood Street was approved by the Cook County Board in February, and terms of a 10-year lease were passed in the City Council in March.
Unlike police officers who patrol streets and respond to 911 calls, county warrant officers look for fugitives who have warrants for outstanding crimes, ranging from lack of child support payments to murder.
Cook County Central Warrants chief Ed Burke, Jr., said the renovations to the 50-year-old building included the removal of 15 jail cells — ripping them from a concrete foundation — adding fresh "Battleship gray" paint to the walls, and installing new carpeting.
The move to new digs included the unveiling of a new logo for the central warrants unit, which hangs in the walkway and reads, "Searching, Serving, Apprehending."
For veteran employees like Tyrine Manuel, who processes child support summons, the office brings sunlight too.
"It's nice to see outside, the sun... see what the weather is!" said Manuel, who worked for 13 years in a windowless office at the County's Juvenile detention center on the West side.
Referencing the merger of different county departments as part of the move, Manuel added, "We're all together, one big family and not scattered around in different units."
Near West Police Commander Melissa Staples, who attended the open house, said she's "glad" the station is open.
"More police presence in the area is a great thing for the community whether they are Chicago Police Department or county sheriffs," Staples said.
In recent months East Village and West Town residents have reported surge in gang activity, prompting larger than usual turnouts at community policing (CAPS) meetings.
Neal McKnight, a local resident and member of a working group that sought input on uses for the station after it was shuttered, said he gives the new sheriffs office "a thumbs up."
McKnight said that while he's "glad there's a law enforcement presence in the community again," he hopes that, down the road, there can be "potential for future collaborations" with the police and county sheriff deputies.
Staples told a reporter "the logistics" are still being worked on but there are plans for the police under her command to work with the sheriffs in some capacity.
For neighbors like Leah and Judd Kohn, who moved into a home across from the former police station four months ago, the news of sheriffs moving into the empty building was a surprise, but not an unwelcome one.
A real estate agent had told the Kohns the building was going to be knocked down and turned into a park, Judd Kohn said.
"We love the fact it's a [sheriffs] station. We feel safer, definitely safer," Judd Kohn said.
The sheriff's station is not open to the public.