Communication Matters

When you make a 911 call, you expect things to happen, quickly. But sometimes, there’s a glitch in the system. Case in point, the F1 radio system that the Edgar County Sheriff Department had been “trying out.”

Originally, the ECSD was on a system that allowed them to communicate with other agencies, like Paris Police, Paris Fire, and ISPERN, the state wide system. This was crucial, because when you’re on a scene, you often need to talk to other agencies, especially when things are really bad. Sometimes you need to do this on your portable, when you’re out of the car. During this “test period” they couldn’t do it at all!

For some reason, ECSD deliberately chose to isolate themselves from other agencies. I’ve been told it was an attempt to solve a reception problem in the Kansas area, and to be fair, it seemed to have improved things there. But that’s kind of like taking a ball bat to a mosquito.

You don’t change a whole system, just to fix one small problem. Instead, you put a repeater in the Kansas car, or place one up high on their water tower. That’s what experts tell me. So Deputies and other officers often couldn’t be heard on traffic stops and other calls.

The ECSD policy was unclear, even to the Deputies, and other agencies. They weren’t even given a memo. But Deputies and Officers were openly being discouraged from using the old frequency in their car. Sometimes, they weren’t even being answered by dispatch. I personally heard this with my own ears.

It was wrong and unfair to ask dispatch to monitor and use two separate systems. But it was more than unfair to the officer. It was downright dangerous, which leads me to the other communication problem.

I’ve been fortunate to have a chance to work with other departments up in Vermilion County, and was stunned at the amount of radio traffic they have up there. It’s often so busy, sometimes I have to pick my moment when to speak on the radio.

Yet they’re always brief, concise, and above all, professional. And when I speak, everyone can hear me, from the County to all the different municipalities. That’s how it needs to be.

I think it comes down to training and expectations. I’m in possession of a resignation letter from a former 911 dispatcher for Edgar County. He noted the lack of “poor training and lack of work related communication among employees” as his sole reason for resigning.

We have good people, yet we’re not really training and supervising them, or setting high professional expectations. This is wrong, and it has to stop.

The Sheriff made the decision to switch to a radio that couldn’t communicate with other agencies (or even their own cars). He is also responsible for implementing proper dispatch policies and procedures, and properly supervising his team.

As a working Sheriff, I will ensure we have a single, effective communication system so everyone is safer, including the officers. I’ll also implement training standards and expectations that rival the “big city” departments. Excellence is a choice. Safety isn’t.


Tom Dolan

2018 Candidate for Edgar County Sheriff

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