How Lake County is working with schools to save time, lives in crisis situations
When it comes to protecting students in a school crisis, every second counts.
That's what officials in the Lake County sheriff's office and Mundelein-based Fremont Elementary District 79 had in mind when they teamed up this week to launch a groundbreaking new program they hope they'll never have to use -- but believe could save lives if they do.
The test program will allow the sheriff's office to instantaneously access live feeds from school cameras, building floor plans and photos, important student and staff data, and other essential information, in the case of an active shooter or some other emergency at one of the district's schools.
"Having critical information in a snap of the fingers absolutely can make a difference between life or death," sheriff's Sgt. Christopher Covelli told us Thursday.
The initiative got underway after newly elected Sheriff John Idleburg took office late last year and made school safety a priority, Covelli said. The sheriff directed his school safety team to create a system that would allow a more rapid law enforcement response in case of an active shooter situation or some other school emergency.
"We really started this from scratch," Covelli said.
Data that would be shared includes the number and identities of people in a building and information about anyone who might need extra help getting out. The information is shared only between police and the school system and only when an emergency happens.
The sheriff's office this year approached District 79 with the idea, choosing it because it's one of the largest school systems located primarily within its jurisdiction. District 79 educates about 2,240 grade schoolers from Mundelein, Wauconda, Hawthorn Woods, Grayslake, Round Lake, Long Grove, and Libertyville.
"We were definitely all in because there are a lot of benefits," said Nick Brilowski, the district's director of public relations. "Time is really of the essence in these situations. We see this as a win-win."
Covelli said the pilot period is intended to help the sheriff and district identify any problems with the program.
"We expect there will be some kinks and little things we can correct," he said. "Then we can roll it out and offer it to the other districts we serve."
Tax (scam) season
Filed your federal income tax return yet? (It's on Susan's to-do list this week.)
The IRS is warning us not to fall for what it says are common tax scams.
• A surge of fake emails, text messages, websites and social media attempts to steal personal information.
• Unscrupulous tax preparers that have you overstate deductions, such as for charitable contributions and medical expenses, or falsely claim Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and other benefits.
• Phone calls threatening arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don't pay a tax bill (which is bogus) immediately. The calls often are a robocall, a text-to-speech recorded voicemail with instructions to call back a specific telephone number. But sometimes, it is a real person. Hang up, and fast, the IRS says; the longer you stay on the line, the more calls you are likely to get, as the scammers sense there's a chance of success.
• Scams disguised as a debt payment option for credit cards or mortgage debt. This scheme usually involves the filing of a Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, and/or bogus financial instruments such as bonds, bonded promissory notes or worthless checks.
• Tax preparers promising extra-large refunds or deep lowering of the amount of taxes owed, especially since they often include filing false documents. How can you tell if your tax preparer is a good guy? Check the IRS' "Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications," at IRS.gov.
In the two centuries since Congress created a federal judicial district for Illinois, it's been the workplace of a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln, the place where gangster Al Capone's criminal empire came crashing down, where Abbie Hoffman and the rest of the Chicago 7 fought the man and where crooked judges and lawyers met their downfall with Operation Greylord.
But never has a woman served as its top judge. Until now.
Officials announced this week that Judge Rubén Castillo is stepping down as chief judge of the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Illinois, clearing the way for Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer to ascend to the post.
"I am extremely pleased to be followed by someone who so deeply loves our court," Castillo said when he made his decision official March 8 -- fittingly enough, International Women's Day.
Pallmeyer was nominated to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton on July 31, 1997, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Oct. 21, 1998. Before becoming a district judge, she served as U.S. magistrate judge, administrative law judge for the Illinois Human Rights Commission and worked in private practice. She earned her undergraduate degree from Valparaiso University and her law degree for the University of Chicago Law School.
Castillo's last day as chief judge will be June 30 and Judge Pallmeyer formally will succeed him July 1.
Help for kids
For 15 years, the Kane County Children's Waiting Room on the lower level of the Kane County Judicial Center has been a cheerful place in a building where a lot of less-than-pleasant business takes place.
Children under 12 can play there, for free, while parents and guardians are in courtrooms. Judges love it.
"They prefer that they (children) not be in there (courtrooms), because it is too much emotional stress for the children to be exposed to," said Ann Lobb, the waiting room's director.
During the school year, it serves 150 to 200 children a month; in summer, that climbs to 300.
But since mid-January, the waiting room has been conducted in a makeshift space inside a courtroom -- and not even available at all times -- because of a flood. A sprinkler head broke Jan. 21, when the courthouse was closed for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Spewing 200 gallons a minute, it filled the room (and the nearby cafeteria) with 4 to 6 inches of water.
The waiting room lost nearly $40,000 worth of supplies and furnishings. Everything had to be tossed out, as it had sat in water for hours. That included 10 cases of books meant to be given away to children (every child receives a book to take home).
The building's law library has stepped in to help refurbish the place. From now through March 29, it is collecting new and gently used hardcover picture books for the waiting room. Books can be dropped off at the library, which is on the second floor, at 37W777 Route 38 in St. Charles. They can also be dropped off at the Peskind Law Firm, 22445 Dean St., Unit E, St. Charles. There is also an Amazon Wishlist for the waiting room, "CWR Restoration."
• Got a tip or thoughts on a cops and crime-related issue to share? Email email@example.com.