CBS 2 Chicago: Cover Up? Chicago Office of Emergency Management Memo Silences Dispatchers

The CBS 2 Investigators and the Better Government Association have been warning about an apparent shortage of Chicago ambulances and paramedics. The result: dangerous delays for patients needing emergency care.

State of Illinois standards require that the fire department provide Advanced Life Support within six minutes, and the City of Chicago says it meets the standard.

Paramedic Field Chief Pat Fitzmaurice says it’s clear that the City of Chicago doesn’t have enough ambulances.

CBS 2 Investigators outline two ambulance delays …

26 minutes for Ambulance 9 to get to a South Side home for an elderly woman with difficulty breathing.

33 minutes for Ambulance 52 to respond to assist an elderly patient with chest pain. Twenty-two minutes were attributed to delayed dispatching and another eleven minutes to the response time of Ambulance 52.

And their reportedly have been others.

The CBS 2 Investigators discovered that a supervisor at the the City of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management wrote a memo to ambulance dispatchers outlining that shout outs for “any available ambulance” are “not acceptable practice.” The memo also advised dispatchers to avoid terminology like “We have no ALS (Advanced Life Support) ambulances available …” The memo also concedes that “… at certain times, we are inundated with runs and lack of resources.” Fitzmaurice calls it a cover up.

“Instead of trying to muzzle the outcry, they ought to be listening to what it means and taking steps to fix the problem.”

— Andy Shaw, Better Government Association

Pam Zekman reports that it is clear with these memos that city officials don’t want the media or anyone with a scanner to hear those transmissions asking for help.

Actually, the “coverup” pales in comparison to the everyday practice of police agencies in the northwest suburbs in the Northwest Central Dispatch System (NWCDS). Media and citizens cannot monitor any police communications over scanners in the northwest suburbs, including Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Palatine, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg and Streamwood — serving a total of almost 500,000 residents. While an intentional coverup cannot be proven, the system is functionally a coverup.

The opportunity for future coverup, existing police corruption, or evolution to police corruption, and the lack of real-time awareness of criminal activity in neighborhoods is likely to negatively impact neighborhoods in the northwest suburbs for years. The opportunity for police corruption to grow through lack of attention of thorough details communicated to the public, and deliberate secrecy in everyday police activity is facilitated with the lack of public oversight. Additionally, the public is at greater risk by not knowing about serious crimes and public safety emergencies in real time.

While Arlington Heights police are probably the most comprehensive and perform the best among the northwest suburbs in terms of prompt messages via Twitter and email subscriptions, last Fall Arlington Heights Police Department failed to put out an alert about a man that touched a female jogger twice along her jogging route near St. Viator High School. Arlington Heights police also allowed a considerable time delay before alerting the public when a woman was attacked and dragged into a wooded area at Lake Arlington. A second attack near Lake Arlington occurred two weeks later. And recently police failed to release information about a residential burglary in Scarsdale Estates, just weeks before a very large loss burglary occurred with a loss of jewelry valued at $258,000.

Chicago Fire Department uses Twitter to direct messages about communications occurring on their public dispatch frequencies.

The City of Chicago has an open data portal that lists crime incidents, minus the most recent seven days. Additionally in Chicago, both police and fire have public dispatch channels, that are easily monitored by the media and the public. Chicago Fire Department even communicates openly about radio communications on their Twitter account. With the open radio communications, the CBS 2 Investigators and the Better Government Association were able to detect or confirm the problem with ambulances responses.

Fire communications are not encrypted, but are also negatively affected by the high maintenance radio system. All of the NWCDS communities, except for Prospect Heights, can only be monitored by an expensive high-maintenance public safety scanner. In fact, the radio system that NWCDS uses is high maintenance also, and fails frequently. Several times dispatchers have not been able to use their desk consoles for emergency communications, and have had to resort to using the portable radios that police and firefighters use in the field.

The Cardinal has been reporting on the negative aspects of radio coverup by police since June 5, 2013, when secret military-grade police radios were activated. While Arlington Heights police touted a reduced crime rate recently for a time period that includes half a year before encrypted radios were activated, the FBI warns about the usefulness of Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics.

When providing/using agency-oriented statistics, the FBI cautions and, in fact, strongly discourages, data users against using rankings to evaluate locales or the effectiveness of their law enforcement agencies.


Police leaders and government community leaders have said that encryption was chosen to improve police officer safety, and to help catch the bad guys that would no longer be able listen in to police communications to facilitate escape before police arrive. But bad guys apparently have learned to adapt, and smart bad guys will continue to adapt by using lookouts or other more reliable ways to evade police.

Since the encryption switch has been turned on …

1. an Arlington Heights police officer has been shot through the chin and throat;

2. life-threatening crime alerts (e.g., attacks, possible abductions) have been delayed or obstructed entirely;

3. a major residential burglary with a $258,000 loss has occurred in Arlington Heights with no real time alert (approximately 22-hour delay), and a burglary alert in the neighborhood that preceded this burglary was missed altogether;

4. an alert with details regarding a jewelry burglary at Lord & Taylor, Woodfield has not been released to the public by Schaumburg police;

5. a manhunt for two suspects in a home invasion on Pembroke Lane in Schaumburg with a police helicopter search was conducted with no real time alert on any of Schaumburg’s official social media accounts.

6. other residential, commercial, and vehicle burglaries have continued;

7. catalytic converter thefts have continued;

8. purse thefts have continued and other crimes have continued;

9. about an extra $300 for radio encryption per police and fire radio unit has been wasted; and

10. public awareness of crimes and public safety emergencies has been delayed and obstructed, and information for personal action responses has been thwarted.

See also …

CBS 2 Chicago 2 Investigators, BGA: City Memo Aims To Quiet Ambulance Dispatchers

The Cardinal Good Samaritan Helped Defend: Another Woman Jogger Reports Attack; This Time Near Hintz Rd and Haddow Ave, Arlington Heights

The Cardinal Attack at Lake Arlington: Battery Suspect Grabbed Woman From Behind, Dragged Her of Path at Lake Arlington

The Cardinal Female Jogger Was Attacked August 2013 Near St Viator; Arlington Heights Police Never Alerted Public Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics: Their Proper Use

City of Chicago Open Data


Cardinal Note: As of June 5, 2013 — up to and including the date of this article — police incidents related to the above-mentioned police agencies are not reported in real time or within a prompt time period. Police protecting their realm of investigation and police activity, have chosen to use secret military-grade encrypted radios to withhold their police communications, which were previously open to the public and news media via monitoring of public safety scanning radios — with no known negative results locally.

The delayed knowledge or entirely blacked out knowledge resulting from encrypted police communications may protect certain police operations and investigations, but it also puts the public at risk in situations such as when armed and dangerous offenders are at large and when other similar situations occur, such as when desperate offenders of property crimes are eluding police. In other cases, the delayed or blacked out information inhibits or prohibits the possibility of the public providing early witness accounts before a criminal trail goes cold. Citizens are much more likely to recognize or recall suspicious or criminal activity if they are aware of the criminal incident within minutes or hours of its occurrence. The most serious incident involving dire results would be a trail that is allowed to go cold in the case of child abduction.

The lack of real time information from public police dispatch also weakens an effective neighborhood watch program mostly working to prevent property loss, but also working to prevent possible violent crimes.

Police have alternate ways to transmit tactical, operational or investigative information, while still keeping their main public dispatch channels open for the best balance of public safety and police safety.

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