The Joliet police chief and a former school board member discussed the recent controversy regarding communication issues between the police and Joliet Public Schools District 86 over the May 30 manhunt for four car thief suspects.
“I heard the helicopters, I heard the drones, I saw the police cars. I thought the police did an incredible job, but there was a big disconnect with the grade school district,” Ziech said.
The District 86 board held a special meeting Monday during which parents, teachers and residents criticized district officials for not quickly notifying them of the May 30 incident where officers had chased after four car thief suspects who were presumably armed.
They also criticized district officials for not closing schools that day, as was done with Joliet Catholic Academy.
The board has directed Superintendent Theresa Rouse to review and analyze any shortcomings in the district’s response to the incident. District 86 spokeswoman Sandy Zalewski said Rouse and administrators are supposed to meet with police officials Tuesday about the incident.
Ziech told the city’s committee members that she would like to see police officials make sure all school districts are informed when an incident like the May 30 manhunt occurs.
“I would urge you to please, as you investigate how you handled this, that you make sure that there is a regular protocol that the school district is contacted,” Ziech said.
When police officials received information May 30 that the suspects were presumably armed, they issued a shelter-in-place for the area surrounding Black Road and Junie Court.
It later turned out that at least three of those suspects caught by Joliet police had no weapons on them, but Joliet police spokesman Dwayne English told reporters at the time that it is their belief “to think the worst in any situation.”
I don’t want to sound like I’m passing the buck, but this was an outside agency that came into our jurisdiction without telling us, until things went really bad and they started asking for assistance.”— Joliet Police Chief Bill Evans
Joliet Police Chief Bill Evans said at Tuesday’s public safety committee meeting that the department had activated its reverse 911 robocall to residents in the specific area to alert of them of the situation. Evans said that usually if there is a school in the area, they will send a police squad vehicle to the school.
“From what I understand, in that circumference of the 911 reverse call, there were no schools in that area, but there was busing in that area,” Evans said.
Evans said he and his staff will meet with school officials to find how they can better notify the school of incidents such as the May 30 manhunt. He said they also plan to do more research on how to use the reverse 911 system for schools in particular.
Evans said he had “half of our department out there,” in response to the four potentially armed suspects who fled from stolen vehicles and tried to hide from police in a residential neighborhood.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m passing the buck, but this was an outside agency that came into our jurisdiction without telling us, until things went really bad and they started asking for assistance,” Evans said.
The police department’s protocol for such an incident is to have regular updates on social media – such as Twitter and Facebook – every 20 minutes, contact media and activate 911 reverse calls in targeted areas, Evans said.
I cannot discuss much what we did in closed session, but all I can tell you is that I do care.”— Sandra Aguirre, Joliet Public Schools District 86 board member
Ziech had recommended that police officials have phone numbers of all school leaders on speed dial so they can be alerted, even if they do not live in the targeted area where the reverse 911 call system is used.
“[Rouse] does live in Joliet, but she doesn’t live in that targeted area,” Ziech said.
Ziech added that the area where the manhunt occurred is a “major bus route” with children who wait for buses to take them to schools on Joliet’s east side, such as Forest Park, Eisenhower and Washington Academy.
“They wait for the buses, and it was very frightening for those children,” Ziech said.
Sandra Aguirre, a new District 86 board member, spoke at the committee meeting, noting that she supported everything Ziech said. She said it was “very disappointing what happened and very scary,” but she wanted people to know she cares about the children.
“I cannot discuss much what we did in closed session, but all I can tell you is that I do care,” Aguirre said.