Coverage of WSCD sensationalist

Opinion

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Your sensationalist front-page treatment of a story on perceived personnel issues within the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center was lacking in context and perspective, and may have created unnecessary fear among residents who someday may need to call 9-1-1 for help ("Overtime up, morale down at police/fire dispatch center," Aug. 17).

Contrary to the view projected in the story, the WSCDC is a textbook model for how a modern, high-tech emergency dispatch operation should run. When residents of Oak Park, River Forest or Elmwood Park call 9-1-1, they reach an emergency medical telecommunicator trained to help save lives while assistance is on the way. These are individuals who have dedicated themselves to helping others, and who know and willingly accept that their posts must be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Since its inception in May 2002, the telecommunicators in the WSCDC have answered more than 233,000 calls for help. Not a single incident has been documented where public safety was compromised by the actions of what the story implied were overworked, unhappy WSCDC telecommunicators. This is an impressive track record that should be praised rather than questioned?#34;especially on the basis of an anonymous letter from someone Wednesday Journal even labeled a disgruntled worker.

While personnel issues may exist for a small number of employees within the WSCDC, just as they do in any fast-paced, high-energy operation, the vast majority of the 24 telecommunicators now on staff comprise a great group of workers. The few who have had difficulty adapting to the demanding professional atmosphere of a modern, multi-community emergency dispatch center do not accurately reflect the tenor of the organization.

More troubling than Wednesday Journal's willingness to accept as unchallenged fact the word of an anonymous complainer, was the story's lack of perspective and context for the information used to illustrate perceived personnel problems at the WSCDC.

The number of mandatory call backs, for example, was cast as being somehow extraordinary, the source of widespread dissatisfaction and a situation that eventually would put residents at risk. But to those of us who have chosen public safety careers, the reporter's interpretation illustrated how little he really understood about our profession and what it takes to work in its related fields.

The 264 shifts the WSCDC had to staff through overtime, actually represented only about 3 percent of our total shifts. This level of overtime is not unusual for an operation such as ours, a fact that would have been obvious had the reporter looked beyond the anonymous letter and checked with other multi-community dispatch centers.

The story also failed to note that mandatory overtime is specifically addressed in the collective bargaining agreement under which we operate. Had the reporter contacted the collective bargaining unit that represents the WSCDC telecommunicators he would have discovered that fact, a fact that would have added much-needed perspective to the fundamental thesis of this latest story.

If I have any regrets about how internal personnel issues have been handled within the WSCDC it is in allowing so much energy to be expended on addressing the needs of a few unhappy employees. The phrases the reporter selectively chose from our employee newsletters were good examples of what can happen when a supervisor follows such a strategy.

In closing, I would like to urge Wednesday Journal in the future to consider the potential negative impact on the community of stories about public safety that are based almost entirely on the word of an anonymous letter. WSCDC operations follow long-established standards and procedures that have evolved over many years of experience in communities across the nation. The effectiveness and professionalism of the WSCDC certainly cannot be assessed merely by reading an anonymous letter and a few employee newsletters. This approach can only create serious misperceptions.

Gregory Riddle
Executive Director, WSCD

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