Des Plaines aldermen are considering slashing the number of vehicles city employees are allowed to take home from 14 to four.
Fourth Ward Alderman Dick Sayad's proposal would allow only Fire Chief Alan Wax, Police Chief Bill Kushner and two undercover police officers to take city-owned cars home with them. Mayor Matt Bogusz, the only elected official to have a city-owned car, also would keep that vehicle under the proposal.
At a city council meeting this week, Sayad questioned the need for the other city-owned employee cars -- in many cases driven by police and fire department command staffers -- due to the cost of gas that the city must cover. In some cases, employees given a city vehicle live as far as 33 miles away from Des Plaines.
Kushner and Wax emphasized the need for certain employees to retain the cars to get to Des Plaines quickly in the event of an emergency. The vehicles are equipped with emergency equipment that allow personnel to respond directly to an incident.
For instance, Kushner said the police investigations commander, who lives 16 miles away in Streamwood, is on call to return to Des Plaines to supervise any investigation of a major nature, from a homicide to a sexual assault.
He's also tasked with overseeing the department's tactical response team that handles situations with barricaded subjects. Last year, there were four such events in Des Plaines. In those cases, a regional police agency takes command of the situation, and communicates directly with high-level police brass -- not sergeants, Kushner said.
"Time is of the essence," Kushner said. "If you're talking about something like a school shooting, a time delay of five minutes can mean a significant increase in a body count. If you're talking about a barricaded subject who starts shooting out of a window, you're talking about an increased risk to public safety."
Sayad and 6th Ward Alderman Mark Walsten said the police and fire department's on-duty staff should be capable of handling an incident until extra help arrives.
"You're telling me that because of these individuals, our city is at stake for safety if these guys don't have a car to get here on time?" Sayad said. "Because if that's the case, then we have a problem here."
Walsten said he was surprised by a city report that shows where each employee with a city take-home vehicle lives. The list includes a deputy fire chief who lives 33 miles away in McHenry; a deputy police chief who lives 28 miles away in Grayslake; and a police officer assigned to the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System, a mutual aid agency, who lives 27 miles away in Gilberts.
"Some of these people that live so far away, if there's some kind of catastrophic emergency, they're not going to be able to get here for quite some time. I don't care if they have an emergency car or not," Walsten said. "And we do have people in that position 24/7 anyway to cover those kind of emergencies."
Fifth Ward Alderman Jim Brookman suggested that when Des Plaines got rid of its residency requirement for employees, it should have been retained for those who respond to emergencies.
Sayad proposed cutting city vehicle usage by 10 after talking to City Manager Mike Bartholomew, who said in his position overseeing day-to-day city operations, the vehicles he "absolutely had to have" were the ones for the police and fire chiefs and two undercover officers. But Bartholomew added that the chiefs would argue they need their command staff to have vehicles as well.
The city council's finance and administration committee is expected to discuss the issue further July 9.