Letter to the Editor from 9-4-14

A 911 public hearing is needed
Dear Editor:
An emergency response by police, firefighters or paramedics starts with a distress call.
The handling of that call can mean life or death for a resident suffering from a heart attack or a home invasion victim where police or paramedics get incorrect information.
Earlier this year the Village of Oak Lawn outsourced its 911 emergency call center. I opposed this action in the name of public safety.
The mayor, her supporters on the board and our Village Manager termed it a ‘cost-saving’ measure that was absolutely necessary. But saving lives of Oak Lawn residents should always be the top priority.
Besides, this administration squandered over $6 million of taxpayer money on no-bid contracts to political supporters and giveaways to developers and utility companies – dollars that could have been allocated to enhance the safety of residents.
Instead, Oak Lawn’s emergency 911 services were outsourced to a company that has too often ‘dropped the ball’ when it really mattered.
In one instance, a dispatcher failed to mention that a man had a gun when dispatching police in Evergreen Park. Initially, the dispatcher denied that the caller mentioned the gun. But a review of the tape showed that the caller – an off duty policeman – did report the firearm.
In another example, a caller reported a man with a gun at Oak Lawn Middle School. The company’s dispatchers did not know there were two middle schools in the village and initially sent a response team to only one of the middle schools.
Resident callers have experienced dispatchers asking them to repeat addresses four and five times when the address appears on the screen in front of them and when callers provide the location of a well-known establishment in town, dispatchers routinely ask “what town is this in?”
Many of these outsourced dispatchers live in towns distant from Oak Lawn and are unfamiliar with our community. As a result, emergency response times have increased and this can make the critical difference in a life or death situation.
The truth or embellishment of these incidents are contained in official reports maintained by the Village of Oak Lawn.
I’ve been trying to gather information and monitor the effectiveness of the outsourced 911 dispatchers since the company was retained. All along the way my efforts in obtaining that information have been met with foot-dragging, stone-walling, delays and denial on the part of the village administration.
So, another critical issue comes into play in addition to public safety – namely openness and accountability.
All the information regarding failures or short-comings of the outsourced 911 services is subject to Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act (F.O.I.A.), yet this administration has demonstrated time and again a wanton disregard for its obligation to be accountable and open to taxpayers.
At a recent board meeting, I asked for an independent audit of the 911 service. The mayor arbitrarily rejected that request claiming there was no need for the study.
Since the call for an independent audit there have been numerous requests for a public hearing on the operation of the dispatch center. Residents of the village deserve an open, honest forum to ask questions and get honest answers. Taxpayers have a right to know why our 911 call center was outsourced in the first place and whether or not their safety has been in anyway compromised since.
I urge every resident of Oak Lawn to call the village hall, call the mayor’s office and request a public hearing be held in the name of openness and transparency and public safety.
Bob Streit
Oak Lawn Village Trustee
in the 3rd District