Protecting volunteer protectors

By on August 6, 2010

Elburn officials struggle with insurance and liability issues for police volunteers
by Ryan Wells
Elburn—As part of the effort to appoint voluntary auxiliary officers in the village, Elburn officials faced the question of insurance and liability during Monday’s Village Board meeting.

The volunteer officer program, known as the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), is supported by federal grant money and has been providing training since this spring. The program trains volunteers to provide traffic control assistance during community events, as well as an increased village emergency and disaster response.

Village administrator Erin Willrett said the program has received positive feedback, with approximately 12 individuals taking part in the training so far, and one or two working at an event at a time.

The questions of insurance and liability create an uncertainty that could threaten the program.

“The issue is, do we want to turn away volunteers because we’re not sure how they are covered?” Willrett said.

The issue of liability is fairly straightforward, Village President Dave Anderson said. Issues of liability govern the volunteers’ actions while representing the village, and in those cases, the village would be liable. This circumstance would be covered under the village’s liability insurance.

The issue that remains unresolved is one of worker’s compensation insurance and coverage.

“If there was a surgeon who volunteered, and God forbid something happened and he or she could no longer perform surgery, who’s liable (for the lost wages)?” Anderson asked.

Willrett said she contacted the Illinois Municipal League Risk Management Association (IMLRMA) for clarification on this issue and the response did not provide a definitive answer.

The e-mailed response from Jason Neiman, IMLRMA claims and litigation manager, stated that a municipality’s workman’s compensation insurance generally is not intended to cover volunteers. However, the final decision on each case is left up to a worker’s compensation commission or an arbitrator.

“The general leaning of the commission seems to be in favor of compensation,” Neiman wrote in his e-mail.

Elburn officials expressed unease with the lack of a clear, definitive answer.

“I’m uncomfortable with this level of murkiness,” Trustee Bill Grabarek said.

Police Chief Steve Smith said the CERT volunteers have become an important part of the department.

“One problem is that the KCOEM (Kane County Office of Emergency Management) have been used so much, they’ve pulled in their horns as to what they do and where they go,” Smith said. “If it’s an incorporated area, they’re not going to come unless they have to.”

He explained that the federal Department of Homeland Security will have requirements come into effect for municipalities in general, as well as those specific to communities that contain mass transit, like Elburn’s rail line.

“There are things we are not going to be able to do with the size of our department, and we have to rely on volunteers,” Smith said.

Besides the regulatory pressures, Smith said the ability to have more people available more quickly in the event of a disaster is important.

“If something serious happens, we need a stop-gap,” he said.

Through the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System, officers from neighboring departments could be called for assistance during an emergency in Elburn.

“But it takes time to get people here,” Smith said. “CERT helps in the short-term.”

In a disaster scenario, CERT volunteer officers would be used to help evacuate areas, shut down streets, and set up and maintain temporary shelters, among other activities.

“We have a wonderful group of people volunteering, and we want to protect them and the village,” Anderson said.

Willrett will explore pricing on private insurance that could provide the coverage needed. In addition, Willrett will re-explore the village’s current insurance and investigate a suggestion that the village pay volunteers a nominal, fixed amount in order to consider them a paid employee, she said.

About Ryan Wells

Ryan Wells is the owner and publisher of the Elburn Herald. You can reach him at RyanWells@elburnherald.com, or by calling (630) 703-9201, ext. 107.

4 Comments

  1. Thomas

    August 6, 2010 at 10:08 AM

    While it is a noble act for a resident civilian to want to act as an auxiliary police officer, don’t we have an abundance of Elburn police on duty anyways? You can see an officer X 2 on almost any given day/time just sitting along main street with a radar on the traffic. on top of the spotters in the corn fields along Keslinger Road. Lets try and cut expenses as opposed to creating more please.

  2. elburnlife

    August 7, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    Thomas your comment make no sense maybe you should read the article again. They are not creating more expenses. The village is trying to protect them selfs and the poeple volunteering. Not sure what your beef is with the police but if you think you have answer maybe you should show up for a board meeting and air your complaints. As for the radar on main street keep up the good job EPD bring in that revenue!!!!!

  3. hardhead

    August 9, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    Thomas, you would think that it is a good thing to see officers availible on the street. if you didn’t see them, that that would tell me that they are running from call to call, which means that the crime rate is high, i.e. no crime = officers doing there job. people complain about how police don’t do enough but when bullets start flying and your running the other way, whos running towards them? Just food for thought.

  4. elburn cynic

    August 11, 2010 at 7:35 PM

    They need to be covered. Keep up the good work.

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