Guest Column: Children left in endangering situation

By Shannon Symonds

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson and Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey.

Dear Chief Epperson and Mayor Morrissey,

I am writing this letter to both of you to make you aware of what has occurred in our city. On April 1, I exited the Kmart store on State Street. Sitting unsupervised in the back seat of the car beside mine was a crying newborn and a young toddler.

I immediately found the doors to the vehicle unlocked, and while I checked the children, I called 911 at 4:01 p.m.

The 911 operator was informed of the need for police assistance, and, in turn, she asked me to call DCFS. I explained that I was now holding a screaming newborn and moving to my own vehicle to keep the child warm; therefore, she would need to make that call herself. I asked for police assistance.

After waiting for what I felt was a sufficient amount of time, I called 911 a second time and asked, “Where are the police?” I was informed by the 911 operator that DCFS had been called, and their employee was on the way.

The operator also said, “The police are not able to respond to the call out because there are no available police officers.”

Admittedly, this statement infuriated me, as I was holding what I considered to be an abandoned baby and had I been a criminal, could have easily loaded up the children and headed towards the state line.

My language towards the operator was not polite, and I was not happy. I again communicated the need for immediate police assistance. I explained the substitution of any police officer with that of a DCFS employee was not appropriate in this situation.

After waiting approximately 20 minutes, the mother of the children came out of the store. She was rather surprised to see me with her infant, but asked for him back so that she could leave. I refused, telling her the police were on the way, although I had no confidence in their arrival.

Infuriated at the lack of help and still waiting for the police, I entered the store, still holding the infant, and asked the manager to call the police. Shockingly, the store manager refused, saying, “I cannot get involved.” Not until I created a huge disturbance and made myself to look like a raving lunatic did the store call the police.

Eventually, a detective and five officers arrived on the scene. All were very polite and efficient at their duties. They took statements, and it is my understanding the mother of the children was arrested. The children were released into the custody of family members.

I expressed to the responding officers my frustration at their response time. I was told they are not allowed to speak to the matter of being understaffed, especially at shift changes, as it just so happened to be. I was given Lt. Person’s name to contact with complaints and/or concerns.

Upon returning home, I did speak to Lt. Person, who put me in touch with the 911 supervisor. The 911 supervisor listened to the taped phone calls and apologized for me being asked to call DCFS myself. As to the exact response time of the police, he “did not feel comfortable” telling me it.

However, he confirmed it was well over a half-hour. (I would guess 50 minutes.) He also said, as a grandparent of children, he could understand my concerns.
Mr. Mayor and Chief Epperson, as parents of children, neither of you can possibly find this acceptable.

While I do not hold you responsible for the actions of imbecile parents who leave young children (a 10-day-old and toddler) alone in the cold, as a taxpayer and citizen of Rockford, I do hold you accountable for police response time, understaffing and improper protocol.

My purpose in writing this letter is not to file a complaint but to make sure the issues at hand are looked at and rectified. Understaffing of our police department is simply not tolerable.

Shannon Symonds is a resident of Rockford.

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