Word came down last week that, four years after Riverside’s police chief called for a radio signal boost at Riverside-Brookfield High School, antennae will be installed inside the school to eliminate communication “dead spots.”
That’s all great news and hopefully, with elected officials in Riverside and RBHS voting to ratify an intergovernmental agreement over the next week, the new hardware can be installed this spring. North Riverside trustees voted to approve the agreement last month.
For the life of us, however, we can’t imagine why such a glaring public safety gap wasn’t plugged four years ago when it was first brought to everyone’s attention. It’s not like the fix was an insurmountable expense. The total cost will be around $67,000.
And the problem was real. Last summer when a juvenile discharged a fire extinguisher in the basement of the school, triggering fire alarms, emergency personnel there reportedly had trouble communicating with the outside world
It turned out to be a false alarm, but it illustrated the peril. It still took almost a year to get the problem solved.
The bottom line is that the communication problem stemmed from radio signals not being able to penetrate the basement and part of the first floor of the school building. It wasn’t the new radios, which are an upgrade over the old ones, where the problem lay.
That school officials continued in their recalcitrance as late as February, when some still argued that somehow the police inability to communicate inside their building was not their problem to solve.
According to a New York Times report published just after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in January 2018, which took the lives of 17 people and wounded 17 more, there had been 239 documented shootings at schools across the nation since 2012.
During that time, nearly 140 people had died as a result, with hundreds more wounded.
In March 2018, students at RBHS and at other high schools across the country staged a walkout to protest the gun violence. The message could not have been clearer. You need to protect us.
RBHS hired a retired police chief to serve as an onsite, armed school resource officer. But they didn’t move to fix the communication problem, because it wasn’t their problem. Riverside police radios – which worked inside every building in the village save the high school – were the problem. It’s simply astounding.
Until just recently, public officials were afraid to talk on the record about a possible cooperative agreement for fear of killing it. Brookfield officials, upset they had to pay anything at all and believing the high school should pay for the whole fix, suddenly backed out at the eleventh hour, leaving it in doubt.
It was the wrong decision by Brookfield. Ensuring public safety is worth $14,000 and would be again if it came to that elsewhere.
Riverside and RBHS have agreed to pick up Brookfield’s share, which is great, but it never should have taken so long to get this deal done. It’s not like there weren’t object lessons available – according to Riverside’s police chief, poor police communication plagued the Marjory Stoneman Douglas response.
When it comes to public safety, we need to get out of our silos and see the bigger picture.