By Dermot Connolly
The Oak Lawn Village Board has approved plans by the Oak Lawn Regional Emergency Communications Center to relocate from Village Hall to a new site in the 9800 block of South Massasoit Avenue.
A resolution regarding the future of the regional 911 center was approved at the Jan. 12 meeting, after hearing about the plans from Diana Tousignant, director of emergency communications for the village.
Tousignant said the 911 center has outgrown its space in the basement of Oak Lawn Village Hall at 9446 S. Raymond Ave., noting that it now serves nine fire departments —Oak Lawn, Chicago Ridge, Evergreen Park, Burbank, Bedford Park, Bridgeview, Central Stickney, Hometown, North Palos, Roberts Park and Summit — as well as six police departments. These include Evergreen Park, Burbank, Bridgeview, Alsip and Hodgkins in addition to Oak Lawn.
“ We handle almost 200,000 calls a year. Several studies have shown that we should be occupying 4,000 square feet, and we are in less than 2,000 square feet now,” said Tousignant.
She explained that the current space was originally designed to be part of the adjoining police department.
Tousignant said tentative plans call for a new one-story building to be constructed on the grounds of the Oak Lawn water tower in the 9800 block of South Massasoit Avenue
“ We haven’t put any plans together yet,” she said. “Right now, we are just asking for your approval for us to move forward with this decision and explore this property near the water tower.”
Tousignant said the Joint 911 Authority Board, with representatives from all the communities serves, will now begin working on the move.
“ This is not going to be a burden on any taxpayer. This project will be funded with what we already have in our capital reserve,” said Tousignant. “The good part about this is that our technology is all new, so we will bring it with us and don’t need to replace it.”
She said that while other sites may be available in other member communities, the joint authority board agreed it would be best to remain in Oak Lawn because it is centrally located and the biggest user of the service.
“ The emergency communication center is a big part of Oak Lawn. (Tousignant) has been coming to us with a lot of different options and I support this location,” said Trustee Paul Mallo (3 rd ).
Mallo pointed out that although it is located in a residential area, with houses just across the street, there will not be a lot of employees coming in and out so the neighborhood should not be disturbed by the activity.
Tousignant said only five or six employees will staff each shift, but residents will have the security of a larger law enforcement presence because police chiefs will often meet there.
“ I have been involved with the 911 Center for 50 years, first as a police officer. So the thought of losing our dispatch center would break my heart. This is a prime location in the center of Oak Lawn,” said Trustee Terry Vorderer (4 th ), thanking Tousignant for her work. He is running for mayor on April 6 with only a write-in candidate opposing him.
In other law-enforcement related matters, the board also unanimously approved a resolution opposing House Bill 3653, with many trustees speaking out against it. The board wants Gov. J.B. Pritzker to veto the law-enforcement related bill, since it was passed by the Legislature in the overnight hours following the Village Board meeting.
Among other things, the 700-page bill aimed at reforming law enforcement would eliminate cash bail for most offenses, require police officers to wear body cameras by 2025, and includes several unfunded mandates that the trustees said would be costly for municipalities.
“ Legislation like this has no place in the society we live in now, that gives extra protection to criminals. It is irresponsible for any of our elected officials to consider,” said Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd), the police department liaison.
“ We’re not against reforming where there is a need. But there needs to be consequences for not obeying lawful commands. This is a one-sided effort to demonize the police,” said Trustee Tom Phelan (6th).