Changes in law enforcement, the return to “normal” life as the pandemic ebbs and new leadership of the police and fire departments have all impacted the public safety officers in Highland.
Police Chief Carole Presson gave her annual report to the city council last week, highlighting many of the changes and the state of Highland’s public safety in 2022. Over the last two years, Highland saw a new police chief, new fire chief, a move to a new public safety building, the consolidation of dispatch services with Madison County and new regulations via the Illinois Safe-T Act, among other changes.
“Each of these new beginnings has been met with pride and professionalism,” Presson said. “While we continue to navigate the obstacles that these changes provide, we have continued the high level of service the citizens of Highland deserve.”
Among the major points detailed in this year’s report:
Investigations officers handled a tip from the FBI regarding an active threat against Highland High School, and the juvenile subject was identified and apprehended within two hours.
Two instances of multiple vehicle burglaries were investigated and prosecuted, including a case in which more than 30 cars were burglarized in one night.
Total incidents for the year are back up near pre-COVID numbers, with 10,481 incidents in 2022. During COVID, incidents ranged from 8,402 to 9,635 per year. In addition to traffic stops and patrol requests, incidents included alarm and business checks, motorist assists, welfare checks on individuals, foot patrols and more. Traffic crashes for personal injury and/or property damage were at their lowest point in five years. Documented school incidents had a 54% increase, however, ranging from ordinance violations to property crime or crimes against people.
The school resource officer program overhauled the response plan for armed intruders in the schools, including soliciting donations from Highland businesses for active shooter response backpacks to be placed in police vehicles. They also obtained a grant from the Rotary Club for signage in the schools to help first responders identify classroom numbers.
A new K-9 began service in Highland, bringing 2-year-old German shepherd Hondo to the Highland Police Department. Partnered with Officer Brad Sutton, Hondo is trained in narcotics detection, tracking and searches, and suspect apprehension, among other tasks.
Training has taken a major step up, with in-person and online training related to multiple topics including the new requirements of the Safe-T Act. In 2021, officers completed 996 hours of training; in 2022, training totaled 2,726 hours. Among the topics were use of force, the psychology of domestic violence, water rescue, body camera use, hazardous materials, active shooter scenarios and more.
Emergency medical service calls remain consistent, with 1,384 911 emergency calls in 2022. EMS calls have increased by 32.6 percent over the past 10 years, including not only Highland calls, but the fire protection districts for Highland Pierron, Marine, St. Jacob, Grantfork and St. Rose. However, 78% of the calls are within Highland limits.
Fire calls were slightly higher in 2022, with nearly 300 calls for service. Highland’s firefighters also respond for mutual aid at significant incidents in the region, including six personnel and an engine deployed to a large warehouse fire in Madison and two personnel and an engine to assist with the fatal tornado damage at the Edwardsville Amazon warehouse.