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.

Police emergency calls decline as folks hunker down

With people hunkering down, riding out the statewide stay-at-home order in response to the COVID-19 emergency, there have definitely been far fewer vehicles and people on the streets of Brookfield, North Riverside and Riverside.

 

And now, local police are observing fewer calls for their services as well.

 

According to Jason Rodgers, executive director of West Central Consolidated Communications (WC3), the central emergency dispatch center serving Brookfield, Riverside, North Riverside and McCook, overall calls into the center declined during March, with police calls falling sharply after March 13.

 

"I'd be speculating, but I think the biggest impact has been the closing of businesses," Rodgers said in an email. "Without the usual volume of people out there traveling and shopping, there is just a lot less demand for responses to accidents and businesses."

 

According to Rodgers, between March 1 and March 13, WC3 received an average of 154 police calls per day. But from March 13 through March 26, that average had fallen to 91 per day, a decrease of 41 percent.

 

Fire/emergency medical calls, meanwhile, have remained pretty steady. According to Rodgers, EMS calls averaged 14 per day between March 1 and March 13.

 

Since March 13, that load has decreased slightly to 11 per day. The total number of phone calls into WC3 also decreased during the second half of March.

 

During the first two weeks, the center fielded an average of 314 calls. From March 14 to March 26, that average had fallen to 224 per day.

 

On Sunday, March 22, the first full day of the shutdown, total calls to WC3 nosedived to just 104 before ticking back up to 234 the following day.

–       Bob Uphues