Shelby Co. (ECWd) –
The Shelby County Dive Team was contacted by the Illinois State Police who sought their assistance in a search for what we understand is a missing person who may have drowned. We have reached out to Austin Prichard, the Shelby County Dive team leader for more context but have not received any response pertaining to the actual request for assistance.
We understand the ISP was seeking the use of the Shelby County Dive Team’s underwater camera in a neighboring county, believed to be Cumberland. Rather than assisting, the ISP was told there would be a $1,000.00 charge for the use of the equipment since there is no mutual aid agreement with the ISP. The ISP refused to agree to such a payment.
Having worked in emergency services most of my adult life, I have to admit I am beyond belief that an emergency agency would not provide the requested assistance to help the ISP locate someone’s loved one because of the requesting agency’s unwillingness to pay $1,000.00 for equipment paid for by the taxpayers.
A common practice in emergency operations is you get the job done and complete the mission first, including making your agency available to other agency requests. Secondary is any resolution of matters having nothing to do with accomplishing the mission. Had the ISP contacted the 911 dispatch center asking them to dispatch the dive team, the law would have mandated they respond, even if no mutual aid agreement exists and is outside their area. In this case, since the call came direct, money and an illegal policy were placed ahead of everything else, and the ISP had to seek assistance elsewhere.
After further review of the policy, it appears not only is there no provision in law to permit such assessment to other agencies, the policy still contains charges in which Prichard knows are not legal and has known for more than three years, yet no corrections have been made in the policy.
At Prichard’s request, he met with John Kraft of Edgar County Watchdogs back in January 2020 over several issues that he wanted information on. The very first suggestion offered was:
“Need to find the originating document(s) (County Ordinance or Resolution) authorizing the Dive Team and the power granted it by the County.”
To date, no such originating documents can be found, nor were they available back in 2006 when the Attorney General raised the same issue in their opinion pertaining to the dive team and the use of their equipment for private purposes. That same opinion outlined they could not charge citizens to recover lost items in the lake as it violated the Constitution relating to the use of public property needing to comply with a public purpose, specifically Article VIII Section 1(a) of the State Constitution. Even after being provided the opinion in 2020, the policy still contains a $50-an-hour charge for such activity.
The policy used by the dive team, according to Prichard, was approved by 2 past State’s Attorneys and the past trustees of the committee. Let that sink in.
His response is yet another example of how broken things have been in Shelby County for years. A State’s Attorney has no approval authority over a policy. While they can provide a legal opinion on the policy, it would appear no such opinion was provided. I say that based on the fact there are so many mistakes and improper items found in the policy. If they did provide their opinion and approval, they should be disbarred from practicing law.
The policy, according to Prichard, was approved by a committee. Committees have no authority to approve county policy. In this case, the alleged policy approved by two past State’s Attorneys and a committee of three points to a law that does not even exist, 210 ILCS 50/355. While there is a 210 ILCS 50/3.55, that law has nothing to do with a dive team nor is it named the “Water-Rescue Act”.
We are confident the County Board will take immediate steps to establish the dive team properly and create appropriate policies and procedures which are consistent with the law and specifically the Water Rescue Act’s mission:
“For purposes of furthering public safety and promoting safe use of Illinois waterways, this Act has been created for the benefit of citizens and visitors to this State and its many communities. (Source: P.A. 90-440, eff. 8-16-97.)”
While we understand the importance of following policy, we pray that in the future an emergency public service organization would never put money ahead of assisting another agency’s request for assistance in their search for someone’s loved one because of a policy, which has nothing to do with the actual mission.
So there is no confusion, the decision made by the Dive Team leader on this matter should not be perceived in a negative light on the dive team as a whole.Dive Team SOG-SOP