Oak Lawn’s Board of Trustees is set to vote to extend a contract with Norcomm Public Safety Communications, Inc. for the outsourced 911 dispatching service. Norcomm’s dispatchers have been accused of being unprofessional and under-trained by fellow first responders.
The agenda for the January 12th, 2016 Board of Trustees meeting includes an item to approve an extension of the 9-1-1 staffing services agreement between the Village of Oak Lawn and Norcomm. The agreement would be extended for an additional three years, from January 1st, 2016, through December 31st, 2018.
As part of the agreement, the Village will pay Norcomm an increasing amount each year. For 2016, that amount will be $2,095,698. For 2017, that amount will be $2,182,875. For 2018, that amount will be $2,267,654.
When outsourcing of the emergency dispatching service was originally voted on, it was presented by the Bury administration as a cost-saving measure. Unfortunately, the suggested savings were wasted when the Village broke its contract with the unionized dispatchers, costing the Village hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement and legal fees. Cost-saving is the message that has continued to this day, despite any evidence in support and numerous high-profile complaints about dispatching errors.
In October 2014, a well publicized deadly traffic accident occurred at 95th St & Cicero Ave. It eventually came to light that Norcomm failed to dispatch ambulances to the scene in a timely manner, waiting six minutes from the first call. It was later discovered that the accident might have been avoided entirely if dispatchers hadn’t sent units in the wrong direction 12 minutes earlier looking for the driver that eventually caused the accident.
That incident seemed to open the floodgates on 911 dispatching complaints. After 10 months of official denials, the Attorney General got involved and documents surfaced related to more dispatching complaints.
Soon after, a former Norcomm dispatcher wrote a letter to the Board of Trustees, detailing a pattern of destroying documents and poor training. The Mayor and Board majority ignored the letter, brushing it off as simply an anonymous letter with no evidence that the writer was even really a dispatcher. When the writer came forward publicly, as a long-time dispatcher, her allegations were still ignored, despite warning that “somebody is going to get hurt.”
Since, there has been a near-constant stream of complaints. Most relate to the dispatchers not knowing the area. The Leaf often hears from residents who complain that a dispatcher has told a caller that their location isn’t in Oak Lawn.
Recently, other first responders have begun to step forward, offering further insight into Norcomm’s dispatching service. In November 2015, we heard about police being dispatched to the wrong house during a suicide. Over the past weekend we heard about dispatchers failing to stop oncoming trains, endangering the lives of police.
Trustees Desmond (District 1), Olejniczak (District 2), Vorderer (District 4), and Carberry (District 5) voted to fire the union dispatchers and outsource dispatching service to Norcomm in 2013. Trustees Streit (District 3) and Quinlan (District 5) voted against it.