Police chiefs in both Brookfield and Riverside have taken steps to physically separate police officers from one another by opening temporary substations in other public buildings.
On March 24, Brookfield police began splitting its police force and fleet in two, with half housed at the main station at the Brookfield Village Hall and the other half in the gymnasium wing of S.E. Gross Middle School.
“Once [the COVID-19 pandemic] started, we began talking about separating the department and started to think about different locations,” Brookfield Chief Edward Petrak said.
Officials considered perhaps using one or both of the preschool buildings the village owns, but S.E. Gross School began looking like the more likely solution after Ryan Evans, the principal of the school and a former village trustee, reached out to Petrak.
“We looked at the gym and it was just a perfect fit for our needs,” Petrak said.
In addition to internet access, the new gym wing has locker rooms, restrooms, vending machines and, perhaps most important, space to spread out. The gym is dotted with tables where officers can write reports and take breaks.
Four squad cars are kept at the site to serve the two shifts – the department has temporarily instituted 12-hour shifts – that work out of the school. And shifts are set up so that officers rarely, if ever, come into contact with one another.
Officers have been ordered to report for their shifts at S.E. Gross School and not to go to the police station. Deputy Chief Michael Kuruvilla is overseeing operations at S.E. Gross School. He is joined there by a lieutenant in addition to the two sergeants and nine patrol officers that comprise the shifts.
Petrak and another lieutenant are the command staff manning the main police station, with a third lieutenant, who has been assigned as the department’s COVID-19 point person, floating between the two and handling logistics.
No weapons are allowed to be stored at S.E. Gross School and all prisoners are to be taken to the joint lockup facility at the North Riverside Police Department.
Petrak said the department is scheduling shifts using this arrangement in two-week blocks. All schools in the state have been ordered closed until April 7, but that date could be extended.
“If things continue this way, we’ll extend the schedule out every two weeks,” Petrak said. “If schools open on April 7, we’ll have to relocate.”
While the setup at S.E. Gross School is a little makeshift, it has its benefits.
“It’s beautiful in there,” said Officer Dan McCarthy, who works the day shift out of the S.E. Gross School gym. “It’s a convenient, nice place to work out of.”
The lighting is bright, the locker room is larger and there’s enough room to spread out in the gym, McCarthy said.
Petrak, who remains in the windowless main station at village hall, agreed that the temporary substation might even be something of an upgrade.
“You really appreciate what modern looks like when you go into the school,” Petrak said.
Riverside cops commandeer Scout Cabin
Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel announced on March 26 that a portion of his force would be working solely out of the Scout Cabin in the 400 block of Fairbank Road until further notice.
Officers assigned to the Scout Cabin are being asked to report for duty in uniform and “fully ready to work,” said Weitzel.
“We’ll do roll call by email or in a parking lot, in the open and standing at least six feet from one another, to get assignments,” Weitzel said.
As in the case of the substation at S.E. Gross School, no weapons will be stored at the Scout Cabin and bookings must take place in North Riverside. Police squad cars will be parked at the Scout Cabin so they are immediately accessible to officers reporting for their shifts.
Weitzel added that the Scout Cabin substation is for officer use only. Anyone wishing to make a report or speak to an officer should visit the main police station at 31 Riverside Road or call 708-447-2127.