All four villages served by West Central Consolidated Communications (WC3) broke new ground recently when leaders from each municipality signed an agreement that allows their police officers to fully handle any calls for service in any other member community during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, who pitched the idea to WC3 members, called the concept “no-boundaries policing” that guarantees police calls in all member communities will be handled if COVID-19 cases among a municipality’s police force mean short staffing.
“It’s only for a worst-case scenario,” Weitzel said. “If a force is really depleted [by COVID-19] we can ensure residents of all the communities that police will handle their calls.”
No police officers in WC3 communities – Brookfield, Riverside, North Riverside and McCook – are currently COVID-19 positive and there has not been an issue staffing shifts.
But cases of COVID-19 have been reported among some Chicago area police forces. In small towns like Riverside, where there are perhaps only three or four officers working the streets on a shift, there’s not much of a staffing safety net.
Since the stay-at-home order went into effect in mid-March, three Brookfield police officers had to be temporarily sent home after coming into contact with people suspected of having COVID-19. None of those cases turned out to be positive, but it highlights how quickly staffing can be affected.
“We’ve seen what’s happened to other agencies,” said Brookfield Police Chief Edward Petrak. “Losses of just a handful of people can cripple an operation.”
Cooperation among all four departments is nothing new and officers will often respond to assist if there’s a need for help. But once the help is no longer needed, they simply drive back to their hometowns.
The new agreement allows WC3 dispatchers, if necessary, to direct officers from any member community to be the principal responder for an incident in any other member community.
Instead of simply providing temporary assistance, for example, a Riverside officer could be dispatched to handle a call in North Riverside, Brookfield or McCook, including making arrests in those communities, if necessary.
“I use the words ‘no-boundaries’ because police officers would be answering routine calls in each other’s towns, not just being called to assist another village and then leaving that village once the assist was completed,” said Weitzel in an April 30 press release announcing the agreement.
North Riverside Police Chief Carlos Garcia said the agreement is similar to others the villages have signed, making them part of regional task forces like the Major Case Assistance Team (MCAT) and the WESTAF, a task force where area detectives help investigate homicides and other serious crimes in other towns.
“It’s a great feeling for all the communities to come to an agreement on something critical like that,” Garcia said.
While the agreement is only in effect during the state of emergency declared by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and, according to Weitzel, is not meant to indicate a move toward metro policing or combining police agencies, it’s clearly an example of such an arrangement.
“Certainly right now it’s for the pandemic,” Weitzel said. “I believe communities like to have their own law enforcement agencies, but sharing resources and services is an everyday occurrence for law enforcement. It could be expanded beyond the pandemic.”