Ten emergency dispatchers with more than 125 years of combined experience were honored by the city of Woodstock April 18, several weeks before the Woodstock Police Department’s telecommunications division closes.
The WPD’s emergency dispatch center will end operations May 1 when it becomes part of the Northeast Regional Communications Center, or NERCOM. Calls to 911 from Woodstock will be routed through NERCOM, based in McHenry.
“There have been so many unsung heroes that have been a part of the Woodstock PD communications center,” Police Chief John Lieb said during a ceremony at a Woodstock City Council meeting.
The change comes in response to a mandate from the state of Illinois, which ordered McHenry County’s six emergency dispatch centers be combined into three as part of a push to consolidate government services.
Amy McKendry would have celebrated her 16th year as a dispatcher with the department in July. She said working in Woodstock gave her an advantage when dealing with emergency calls.
“Someone might [call 911 and] say to me, ‘I’m at the old Die Cast lot.’ I know where the old Die Cast lot is. Someone from McHenry may have no idea where the old Die Cast lot is,” McKendry said. “I know where the old Harley-Davidson is. I know where the old Farm and Fleet is. That’s one of my biggest fears. I know my town and I’m very protective of my town.”
Grant Havens will be joining McKendry at the new dispatch center. He said NERCOM has its advantages.
“There are some positives, I think. It will be a bigger family,” Havens said. “We’re all family here. Instead of maybe two dispatchers [on duty] at a time, we’re going to have four to five or six at a time.”
In the long run, joining NERCOM is expected to save money for the city of Woodstock and most of the other jurisdictions that consolidate.
In 2016, the city spent about $773,000 on dispatch center operations, with the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District kicking in an additional $84,000 for handling its calls. Yearly expenditures for the city are expected to drop to about $500,000 once NERCOM is up and running, according to City Council documents, but it will be more expensive in its first year — the city expects to pay an extra $100,000 on things such as new equipment and employee severance.
For WFRD, NERCOM will cost more. The fire district will pay about $120,000 annually for its services, an increase of $36,000 a year. Woodstock will cover WFRD’s added expenses for the first five years of the deal, city documents show.
Tami Soto won’t be going to NERCOM, making her one of five WPD dispatchers to take different jobs or retire. She said she’s concerned about how the Woodstock Police station will handle visitors once the change kicks in. Dispatchers screened people who entered the lobby, but once the switch is made, visitors will pick up a phone and call NERCOM before being let into the rest of the building.
“As it is now, we can see if they have a weapon, if someone comes in with a knife — we can see this because we’re right there,” Soto said. “Just certain aspects of their safety are not going to be the same.”
For McKendry, closing the WPD’s dispatch center stings on a personal level, too.
“The hugest drawback is my guys, my patrol officers,” McKendry said. “I have worked with these guys for almost 16 years. I’ve been with my husband for 13. It’s like the divorce you never wanted.”