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posted: 8/5/2014 1:01 AM

Editorial: Security must be top priority for county staff

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

All people deserve a safe place to work.

An environment where it's safe to do their job, whether that's helping others, crunching numbers or writing newspaper stories.

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Sure, there are occupations that carry inherent risk -- police officers, firefighters and prison guards come to mind -- but even those jobs have training, equipment and protocols designed to protect the health and safety of employees.

That's why recent complaints about isolation and lack of security at the Kane County Diagnostic Center are so disconcerting.

Of particular concern is the safety of Kane County's five clinical forensic psychologists -- four are women -- who work in the building to evaluate the ability of criminal defendants to stand trial.

Their clients include alleged sex offenders and people accused of some level of domestic violence. The potential dangers of such a working environment with no protection should be clear to everyone. What's shocking is there's no plan to address the safety hazards.

County officials must act now to rectify this situation before someone gets hurt or worse.

Local governments frequently must compromise on space and technology constraints created by outdated buildings. However, employee safety is not the place to cut corners.

The diagnostic center is on the 700-acre Fabyan Parkway campus owned by the county and forest district, in a building that's more than 40 years old. In her presentation to the county board last week, the center's director, Dr. Alexandra Tsang, painted a vision of a forgotten building.

The closest public transportation to the public facility is more than a mile away. Collapsible walls that are not soundproof separate client therapy sessions. Three staff members were diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning in January due to poor ventilation.

At the same time, the center's workload is growing. For example, the full-time clinical staff expects to perform twice as many sex offender evaluations as the 87 it did last year.

A growing number of psychological evaluations involve clients accused of domestic violence. There's also been a school shooting assessment.

Diagnostic center officials are not alone in complaining about their facilities in Kane County. Coroner Rob Russell wants a new morgue, and Sheriff Pat Perez said the old shooting range is no longer safe to use because of flooding and lead contamination. The county broke ground on a new range in May.

Building a new home for the diagnostic center is unlikely, but Kane County officials can find creative alternatives. County board member Barb Wojnicki suggested space might be found at the circuit court clerk's office in St. Charles, a building that already has a security staff.

That's one solid idea. It's likely there are many more similar options worth investigating. They all need to be studied -- and quickly.

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