It’s late, there has been a car accident on a slippery road; or maybe a single woman is walking down the street, when she notices someone is following her; or possibly a family walks into their home and realize they are not alone.

In each and every case, people’s gut reaction is to reach for a phone, dial 911 and everything settles down”hopefully”at the sound of a calm police dispatcher who says ‘911, what is your emergency?’

These are the unsung heroes of the police force, the real first officer at the scene, handling what sometimes amounts to a logistical nightmare: they scan multiple frequencies, calm down callers, extract as much information as possible, identify the patrol closest to the site, dispatch officers to the scene and relay information to these officers in real-time, a process that usually begins within six seconds of receiving a call.

Today, in Forest Park, these heroes are getting a little help, in the form of their newly upgraded Call Center.

“I started in 1987,” said Information Management Director and former dispatcher Craig Lundt. “We had two terminals and handwrote everything. We answered odds and evens”on odd days River Forest picked up, on even days, we did; you couldn’t transfer a call. Now you can transfer a call anywhere in the nation, we can look up an address and see how many times we have been to a particular location in the last month.”

The center began upgrading in 2002, when a new computer system was installed. Then, in October of 2004, the police upgraded the telephone system and added a third position. Now, they are working on upgrading systems, getting all cell phone carriers on board, so they can pinpoint the location of the numerous cell phone calls they receive.

The center is located in village hall, and receives an average of 1,200 calls per month; of these, 86 percent are answered in less than six seconds.

In 2002, Lundt said, the center received 25,624 calls for service; in 2003 they received 23,964 calls; and in 2004 they received 20,010 calls.

The center is equipped with two telephone systems, the automated number identification (ANI) and the automated location identification (ALI), which lock on to every call that comes in and provide the dispatcher with a callback number and a location they can transmit to the squad cars.

The center has a map at the top of the desk that shows where all squad cars are, as they move around Forest Park.

“Between the squad car [system] and the 911 [telephone system], we can pinpoint the squad car that is closest and expedite response time,” Lundt said.

The center and its dispatchers also monitor the point to point network, the Illinois State Police network, the administrative band, the regional and local fire bands, among others.

In addition, the system automatically calls seniors to see if they need help, through a program called the “RUOK program.”

“We have helped a lot of people out, it has been a phenomenal service,” Lundt said.

The center is connected to national networks so dispatchers can run background checks, criminal histories, driver’s license checks, terrorist alert checks, etc. and communicate the information to the units in the cars, as they receive it.

They are also responsible for the severe weather and terrorist threat alerts for the village”they activate the sirens.

As good as the new technology is, there is still room for improvement, however, as dispatchers do not have access to the cell phone caller’s information, other than their number, unless they place a special request on a police-use only line with the carriers. 

To address this, Lundt said, the new call center uses triangulation, sending a signal to the cell phone from the center, through the tower. This allows the system to triangulate the possible location of the victim of a crime, using the cell phone that called 911.

This may not be necessary in the future, Lundt cautioned, as newer generation cell phones come with a geosynchronous networks built-in that will automatically broadcast a longitude and latitude reading when one dials 911.

Lundt said the center’s system is the best in the West Suburbs and pointed out that “should the big one hit,” the system has a full backup and an evacuation plan where all systems would be transferred to another location.

“We can shift everything on a moment’s notice,” he said. “We can send what a dispatcher is seeing right to the cars in real-time. Everything is touch screen.”

In addition, the center’s upgrades include mobile units in the squad cars. Officers on the scene can file reports, do checks on criminal histories, fire arms licenses, communicate with dispatchers, etc. all from their cars.

In the end, however, at the other side of all of this technology is still the dispatcher, who manages all of this information, distills it into usable form and quickly sends out the right information to the right people.

“We filter all information,” Lundt said. “A dispatcher is a traffic cop for information.”