Ill. city lays off dispatchers in move to outsource 911 emergency services

Harvey Mayor Christopher Clark said that residents’ service would not be disrupted during the transition


Zak Koeske
The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill.

In a move that’s been many months in the making, Harvey laid off its skeleton crew of emergency dispatchers in preparation for the city’s transition to an outsourced dispatch model that officials expect to reap significant cost savings for the cash-strapped community.

Mayor Christopher Clark did not elaborate Thursday on the layoffs or his plans for the city’s dispatch operations going forward, saying only that residents’ service would not be disrupted.

The mayor and former police chief last year discussed plans to outsource the city’s dispatchers and the City Council approved a deal with Cook County to assume control of Harvey’s 911 system. (Photo/Getty Images)
The mayor and former police chief last year discussed plans to outsource the city’s dispatchers and the City Council approved a deal with Cook County to assume control of Harvey’s 911 system. (Photo/Getty Images)

“This was simply a management decision,” he said late Thursday in a text message.

The mayor and former police chief last year discussed plans to outsource the city’s dispatchers and the City Council approved a deal with Cook County to assume control of Harvey’s 911 system.

A spokeswoman for the Cook County sheriff’s office, which provides dispatch services for nine municipalities and Metra, confirmed Thursday the agency would take over 911 services for Harvey’s Police Department Sept. 1.

The sheriff’s office will not dispatch for Harvey’s Fire Department, she said, and it’s not immediately clear who will.

Harvey’s five dispatchers and the union that represents them had been aware of the outsourcing plan for months, but were never told by the city exactly when the transition would take place, the union’s president said.

Rich Bruno, president of the Illinois Council of Police, said he received an email from a city attorney Wednesday night notifying him that all of Harvey’s telecommunicators would be terminated as of Thursday.

“Whatever their motivation was, it could have been handled much differently and they could have handled their long-term employees with much more respect than they did,” Bruno said. “That’s not how you treat people.”

Ald. Dominique Randle-El told the Southtown he believed that two of the city’s five telecommunicators were retained, at least temporarily, to help with the transition, but it wasn’t immediately clear how long that arrangement might last.

Bruno said the union never received written guarantees that any dispatchers would be retained in other city roles or offered jobs with Harvey’s new dispatch provider, but said that was one of the issues he planned to discuss with the city as part of what is called effects bargaining.

“We can’t stop (the layoff),” he said, “but we can bargain the effects of it.”

Bruno said the email notice of the terminations he received Wednesday indicated that dispatchers would be paid until Sept. 9., but was not clear on severance benefits, which will also need to be discussed during effects bargaining.

He said the Cook County sheriff’s office would be taking over dispatching for Harvey police, but that a separate contractor would handle emergency communications for the fire department.

Randle-El said he was under the impression, after speaking with the city administrator, that the mayor may recently have inked a deal with Bud’s Ambulance Services for dispatch services, but didn’t know whether it was for fire dispatch only or for both police and fire.

He said at the time the City Council signed off on the dispatch services agreement with the county last year it was not mentioned that the sheriff’s office would dispatch only for police and not for the fire department.

Bud’s Ambulance Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to Cook County Board meeting minutes, a five-year, $2.23 million dispatch services agreement with Harvey was approved Dec. 19, 2019.

Per the deal, Harvey would reimburse the sheriff’s office monthly for all personnel and operational costs associated with the agreement, including costs associated with any additional positions added to perform the services.

Randle-El said he supported outsourcing dispatch services to the county because of the estimated $1 million in annual cost savings he believed it would create.

“Our 911 center, we needed to improve it and it would cost millions to do that,” he said. “So the idea was the sheriff’s department had the advantage of having a state-of-the-art dispatch center, so that was a cost savings measure.”

Bruno said it’s common nowadays for municipalities to outsource dispatch services, but that the way Harvey went about it was particularly cruel to employees.

“I think the whole process should be conducted in a professional manner and this was far from what we would expect from a municipality,” he said.

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©2020 The Daily Southtown (Tinley Park, Ill.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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