Call 911!

That’s the message from Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas, who said 911 is the new number for all police, fire and emergency medical service for Forest Park. Departments recently outsourced their 911 call center to West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center (WESCOM), which also serves Oak Park, Elmwood Park, Park Ridge and River Forest.

Now if you call the police department about filing a report — say, someone breaks into your car overnight and steals a cellphone charger — Forest Park’s desk clerk will listen to your complaint and transfer you to a WESCOM dispatcher, who will need to hear your complaint again. WESCOM is the agency that dispatches police officers, and immediately calling them, Aftanas said, “cuts out the middleman. Some people get frustrated telling the events over a second time.”

The police department closed their 911 call center in May, following a January 2016 state mandate that any village with a population under 25,000 must close its dispatch center. Forest Park’s population is about 15,000. The law was designed to save the state money on telecom services; standardize 911 responses; and help small, primarily downstate communities without 911 centers to gain access. The village hired WESCOM because Oak Park and River Forest already used the firm, and Forest Park shares a 911 radio band with those neighboring towns, Aftanas said.

WESCOM receives about 1,500 Forest Park calls per month through its trunk lines, i.e. phone lines dedicated to 911 so callers don’t receive a busy signal, said Brian Staunton, executive director of WESCOM, noting that such lines are expensive. When Forest Park shut down its dispatch center, its old trunk lines were shut down, which saved the state and village money, he said.

“In the long run, it probably will save us a little bit of money,” Aftanas said. “At the time we had our 911 center here, it cost us about $900,000 a year to run our dispatch center, and it’s going to be several hundred thousand less from this point forward.”

Cost savings will initially be used to pay back the expensive, one-time costs of switching police, fire and EMS systems over to WESCOM, Aftanas said. AT&T had to give WESCOM access to the village’s tornado siren, for example. After that, Aftanas said he’s not sure where the funds will be used.

But closure of the local dispatch center has affected police, fire and EMS operations. Now if Aftanas has a question about a way a 911 call was handled, he must call WESCOM and talk with the firm’s directors, rather than simply walking over and talking to the individual dispatcher.

“It’s a big change,” Aftanas said. “I’ll be honest, I miss the employees.”

About eight dispatchers worked in the police station and all had the opportunity to apply to WESCOM after Forest Park announced it was closing its dispatch center. Six took positions at WESCOM. The other two left the industry.

One Forest Park dispatcher had been working at the police department for about 20 years. When dispatchers transferred to WESCOM, they underwent WESCOM training, and now must work longer hours and don’t have seniority when requesting holidays off or shift selections. WESCOM employees work 12-hour shifts. Forest Park dispatchers previously worked eight hours at a time.

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