Who Ya Gonna Call??
For me, this is incredibly personal. If you don't know me personally, then you wouldn't know that I grew up in a fire department family. My father, now retired, began his career as a volunteer firefighter in the town where I grew up in south Florida. He retired as the fire chief of a neighboring town. I got the pleasure of growing up knowing cops and firefighters as family friends.
I don't know if it's the same in every household, but the second phone number I ever learned was 9-1-1. I know that the men and women who are called to work dispatch are a truly unique and very special group of people -- and do not mistake this, that work is a calling. To voluntarily sit helplessly behind a phone to get the needed information, stay calm, calm the hysterical person calling you down, AND potentially send firefighters or police officers directly into danger is a job that is not for the weak. I've read the statistics; I know that the vast majority of the calls are EMS calls and aren't active shooters; but the dispatchers need to be prepared for both -- all the time. The burnout rate is high among dispatchers and the stress levels are through the roof. They are expensive to train, and expensive to keep. And frankly, there are no emergency services without this behind the scenes - front line people.
Our police department rely on these dispatchers to get good information about where they are going, what to expect, and to begin the case file should this need to go to court. What I'm saying is there is a process and procedure for a very good reason.
So -- given this knowledge, I'm sure you can imagine the shock and outrage I had when I found out that some of our Village Officials thought they didn't have to follow this procedure.
Dispatch and Lakewood
Our dispatch services were contracted with a company called SEECOM until 2019. But our previous police chief, worked out a deal with McHenry County Sheriff's office to reduce our costs significantly -- like a $20,000 savings.
This agreement went so well that Chief Richardson worked out that we have a 4 year deal with the Sheriff's office. This was approved inside a consent agenda on 4/7/2020. Here's the fully signed agreement for you to read in your free time:
Before going forward -- the SUM in the 2020 column is the budgeted amount for the contract that was approved by our board. The problem here is that despite not applying any cost to dispatch for Lake Patrol for the past two years, CAO Smith suddenly budgeted $1200 for the Dispatch for Lake Patrol. Only thing is -- the contract with the Sheriff's office is for $52,631.86 (or you know, $1,200 less than than she budgeted). So, where's that $1,200 really going to go?
Prior to 5/4/2020, it came to Trustee Bryan Younge's attention that both CAO Smith and President Stephan were texting or calling the officer on duty for things they wanted dealt with, but did not want a record that they were the ones who called it in. Trustee Younge reached out to both of them and and asked them to stop this practice.
As you can see from the screen shot of the exchange, Mr. Stephan wasn't in agreement that this was a wrong practice.
I think it's important to note that he calls our this $45/call number. There is no price per call in the contract, it is a set amount regardless of the number of calls, so this is a figure that arrived at by taking the whole contract and diving by the expected number of calls. Basically, it would be reduced with every call into the police emergency and non-emergency numbers. Because that's how fractions work.
But I'm not 100% sure that the cost was President Stephan's chief motivation. You see, from what I've been told, it's not unusual to get citations if you suddenly get on Mr. Stephan's bad side. Here's the minutes from a board meeting when then-Trustee Stephan's neighbor came forward to complain about citations he got:
But I don't think this really does this statement justice -- so, I encourage you to listen to Mr. Otlewis speak for himself. His comment begins at 1:14 of the meeting. Also, notice that CAO Smith claims that she's the one who drove down the street and saw the violation. But yet, it was the only violation that was cited that day and Mr. Otlewis seems to feel that this was actually from Trustee Stephan and not CAO Smith.
So --- getting back to the point of the dispatch going through proper procedure. There's a proper procedure and it is obvious that some in our Village's Administration don't think they need to follow it.
Next up, that famous report of "facts" that Trustee Berman presented on June 23rd. Well, he states in that report that Jeannine said she's texted calls about 7 times in 11 months. Now, Mr. Berman seemed to want to get consensus that 7 times didn't seem like very many; but what he got was a full admission of our CAO going around the system and texting directly to our on duty police officers to go out on a call. This puts the police officers in harm's way.
And it seems that our McHenry County Sheriff is also opposed to this procedure.
Now, I've heard through the grapevine that there are some upset people that someone might have "told" Sheriff Prim about these texts -- but since Mr. Berman told me the same 7 texts in 11 months statement in our conversation in early June --- I wonder if this practice was in fact the worst kept secret in the Village?? Perhaps, Mr. Berman himself was the tattle-tale?
Either way, no matter how the Sheriff got the information, understand that what's at risk isn't just the savings in our 911 dispatch (which is considerable and needed given all the other budget problems we have) -- it isn't just the chain of information that would be valuable if any of these calls ended up in court -- it isn't even the fact that because personal phones were used in these police calls, the CAO and the President's phone becomes subject to FOIA requests for the texts ---- it is because every time our officers go out on a call that doesn't have trained dispatch support with as much information as possible, their lives are at risk and their already risky job is made riskier because our CAO and President seem to believe that rules don't apply to them.