By Ashley Griffin
The Illinois State Police are weighing a consolidation that could result in the layoffs of dozens of communications personnel.
Under Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget plan, the state police would consolidate its 20 communications centers down to four centers.
In a committee hearing Wednesday afternoon, state police Director Hiram Grau testified that the agency now has the technology for such a reduction.
“I should tell you that the Illinois state troopers have been considering [consolidation] since 1995. Back then, the technology wasn’t there, but today, the technology is,” Grau said. “Based on the technology that’s available, we need to make sound decisions and operate as fiscally responsibly as we can. So we looked at the technology, and we think we can consolidate from 20 communications centers down to four. We’re asking for the approval and the money to make that happen.”
But the move will not result in immediate savings. Grau said the consolidation of the centers could cost the state nearly $13 million in capital funding upfront but would save the state money in the long run. The plan would come with up to 40 layoffs among the current 150 communications personnel but would not leave any districts without communications services. Although some layoffs may occur in communications departments, Grau said that two new cadet classes to train state troopers would be added later this year and another one is anticipated for early 2013. They would be funded from general revenue funds.
However, some argued that it is essential to have communication staff who know the area they cover.
“Some of the things our telecommunicators say why we should have 20 dispatch call centers are that they know their district, they know the terrain, they often take calls from people driving through the area on the interstate who don’t know where they are. Being familiar with the area, telecommunicators can help them identify their location, so the police can respond,” said John Coleman, who said he spoke on behalf of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
Coleman said communications workers sometimes assist callers who need help if a state trooper is not immediately available.
“With the short staffing, there are not always officers available in the headquarters when people come to look for help, so its usually the telecommunicators when there is no officer there who can keep the headquarters open and get a quick response from someone who is in trouble.”
But lawmakers said the state’s current budget situation puts such consolidations on the table.
“I don’t think individual troopers probably are wanting to see their local radio centers closed. However, in these economic times, I think everyone can understand the efficiencies of doing that,” said Rep. Jerry Mitchell, a Republican from Sterling.