Lake Forest is considering trading its in-house police dispatch center for a shared-service agreement with nearby towns as it looks for ways to streamline its operations.
Creating a central dispatch center in Highland Park that would be shared with Lake Forest, Lake Bluff and Highwood could save Lake Forest about $2.4 million over the next five years, City Manager Bob Kiely told officials at a recent committee of the whole meeting. Similar savings could be achieved by contracting with Glenview, which already has a multi-jurisdictional dispatch center in place, he said.
Those two options are the ones city officials left on the table after reviewing five options, one of which was to make no changes Lake Forest’s current dispatch operation. The city's dispatch center is run by its own employees and provides police dispatch services for Highwood, as well as fire dispatch services for Lake Bluff and Knollwood.
The options were developed by a task force made up of representatives of Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, Highland Park and Highwood who are looking for ways to eliminate duplicate services and operate more efficiently, Kiely said.
Creating a consolidated dispatch center in Highland Park would require no capital funds, Kiely said, because that city’s center has space for additional dispatchers. Such a partnership would also require a smaller dispatch staff, Kiely said. Combined, Lake Forest, Lake Bluff and Highland Park employ 21 dispatchers. The Highland Park partnership could reduce the staff count to 15 or 16, while the Glenview option would require just 12 dispatchers, Kiely said. Additional savings would come from consolidating the departments’ technology, he said.
The prospect of layoffs has shaken the Lake Forest dispatch department, one employee told Patch, but some employees have other concerns about the consolidation of services.
“Highland Park has a way higher crime rate than we do,” said a Lake Forest dispatcher, who asked not to be identified by name. Home invasions are one example, said the dispatcher, who worries that response times to incidents such as local traffic accidents could be impacted if more urgent incidents are called into the consolidated dispatch center.
“A bunch of little things, when put together, become a huge impact,” the dispatcher told Patch.
Relocating Lake Forest’s dispatch operation to Highland Park could mean the lobby of the Lake Forest Police Department, which is currently open to the public 24/7, would close during overnight hours. Visitors could instead reach a central dispatcher through a camera screen at the station.
Officials will consider the impact that would have on the administrative tasks performed by the department’s overnight dispatchers, who work in pairs, and on matters such as prisoner management. Cameras could help keep tabs on those in custody, or an officer could be assigned to check on them, Kiely said.
“The concern I’ve heard from residents is, ‘There’s nobody there when I walk in,'” said Mayor Donald Schoenheider, who suggested that officials look at consolidating the dispatch services while keeping staff at the Lake Forest station overnight.
The community currently has anytime access to services such as garage sale permits or parking signs for special events, said dispatcher, who also voiced safety concerns for people who might seek refuge at the station.
“In the event that you’re running away from someone, which we’ve had happen, you wouldn’t be able to get in,” the dispatcher said.
Police Chief Jim Held said the majority of walk-ins arrive during daytime hours. “The majority of the foot traffic into the station is non-emergency related,” he said.
Aldermen also posed questions about the proposed mergers. One wondered whether a second dispatch center could be created to better serve people at the west end of town. Kiely said he’d bring the question to the task force.
The task force is scheduled to meet again Oct. 28, and city officials could vote on a change as soon as November. Once an option is adopted by the City Council, it could be implemented within three to six months, Kiely said.