By Bob Uphues
The Illinois General Assembly has given small towns all across the state an order to consolidate their emergency police and fire dispatch centers by mid-2017, forcing municipalities to scramble to either join existing dispatch centers or form their own.
And by July 1 the state wants written plans for just how such consolidation is going to be handled — a task that has brought Brookfield, North Riverside and Riverside together to form a joint dispatch center.
Tentatively called WC3, the joint dispatch center for all three villages will be located inside the North Riverside Police Department and will be governed by a board of directors that will hire an executive director to manage operations.
Earlier this month, all three villages signed off on a consulting contract to hire Northbrook-based GovHR USA to assist them in implementing the plan. The first order of business is to file the plan itself with the state by July 1. GovHR USA is being paid $25,000 (the cost is split equally among the three towns) to complete the planning document.
Representatives from all three villages, including village managers, police and fire chiefs, and dispatch supervisors have been meeting weekly with GovHR USA consultant Paul Harlow, who formerly served as village manager and public safety director of Glencoe.
Last summer, the General Assembly passed the consolidated dispatch law bill, which was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on June 29, 2015. The bill mandates that all towns with populations less than 25,000 to consolidate services to reach that population.
And while there may be some cost savings due to consolidation down the road, officials say that won't be seen until way down the road, perhaps up to a decade. But officials also say, though they expect it to be substantial, they don't have a firm idea of what it's going to cost to consolidate emergency dispatch operations.
"At this moment we don't have an exact cost," said Riverside Village Manager Jessica Frances, who added that they would have a better picture by August or September, when she starts putting together Riverside's 2017 budget. "But, obviously, there's a cost associated with it."
The cost to create the joint dispatch center would also be borne equally by all three municipalities, officials say.
There are many moving parts to the consolidation process. In addition to physically upgrading the North Riverside dispatch center to include a third position and some new equipment, Brookfield is not presently on the same dispatch radio frequency as Riverside and North Riverside, and Brookfield belongs to a different fire department mutual aid division.
In addition, the records software used by North Riverside and Brookfield is not used by Riverside, and all dispatchers will need to be trained to provide what's called Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD), which is a higher level of dispatch service that's being mandated along with the consolidation.
EMD is something that will help improve dispatching services, officials say, by offering a high level of training and providing more consistent service to residents suffering medical emergencies.
While some of the dispatchers currently employed in Brookfield, North Riverside and Riverside have been trained in EMD, none of the three villages presently provides EMD service because it requires a second dispatcher to be on hand 24 hours a day.
"It certainly makes dispatchers highly qualified and it's more consistent," said Brookfield Police Chief James Episcopo.
All three towns say the full-time dispatchers they currently employ will be retained, but the future of part-timers is not so clear. Eventually, however, the dispatchers will go from being municipal employees to being employees of WC3, and a new collective bargaining unit will be created for those employees, who are now members of three separate units.
"One of the most important things for us is that our dispatchers are able to keep their current jobs," said North Riverside Police Chief Lane Niemann.
One of the other changes that will come as dispatch services consolidate is that Brookfield and Riverside police will no longer have personnel at their front desks 24 hours a day.
During the overnight hours, North Riverside will have dispatch personnel available to handle walk-ins, but some sort of phone/video system will need to be installed at Brookfield and Riverside to allow anyone walking up to the front doors of those departments to reach a dispatcher in North Riverside.
The dispatchers can then have an officer respond either to that location or to the person's home.
"Only a small percentage of police problems are walk-ups," said Niemann. "I think you're going to have a higher level of customer service because there will be more face-to-face with officers.
"When it all shakes out, you'll have a higher level of police response and a higher level of dispatching consistency will be there."
In June, all three municipalities will sign an intergovernmental agreement to set up the WC3 board, which will include officials who have already been meeting informally with the GovHR USA consultant.
That group will then begin working with the consultant on phase two of the consolidation implementation. GovHR USA has not given the villages a cost estimate for the phase two work yet.