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Partners in preparedness: the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System.

It has more police employees than the police departments of Pittsburgh, Portland, and the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul combined. It provides essential police services to a population of over 1.6 million people. Yet, it is a system, not a police department. If it were, it would be the eighth largest municipal law enforcement agency in the United States.

The Northern Illinois Police Alarm System (NIPAS) represents a joint venture of suburban municipal police departments in the Chicago metropolitan area. Fifteen police agencies created NIPAS in 1983 to ensure effective police mutual aid in times of natural disasters. From these humble beginnings, the system has grown to include the law enforcement agencies of 86 cities and villages in four counties. Today, NIPAS uses its resources to accomplish diverse duties, such as fighting floods, quelling civil disturbances, and providing foreign language translation services for its members.


In 1982, severe flooding nearly devastated several small communities along the shores of Lake Michigan north of Chicago. Public safety resources, especially those of local law enforcement agencies, became stretched to the limit. Although neighboring communities responded with assistance, police leaders realized that they needed a better organized system with preplanned deployment procedures.

The following year, the chiefs of 15 police agencies in Illinois' northern Cook and southern Lake counties established NIPAS through an intergovernmental mutual-aid agreement. This legal document authorized neighboring agencies to work together in times of need. In 1988, written bylaws formalized the original agreement.


A governing board consisting entirely of police chiefs directs NIPAS and approves its annual budget, which serves as the basis for all NIPAS expenditures. Member agencies pay a set annual fee to participate, thus providing both the staff and the finances needed to manage the system.

A Buffalo Grove, Illinois, police commander manages the system's day-to-day activities. Due to rapid expansion, NIPAS now comprises two geographically based divisions, each supervised by a sergeant, who reports to the system's commander.

Activating the System

Whether faced with a natural disaster or the unexpected results of a special event, a member agency may request assistance for any situation its command staff believes the agency cannot handle with its own resources. The requesting agency's incident commander contacts the system's dispatching center, the Northwest Central Dispatch System,(1) and identifies the level of response needed. There are 10 levels, each one calling for an additional 5 officers to respond according to a predetermined alarm plan. Thus, level 1 requires 5 officers to respond; level 10, 50.

The dispatch center quickly sends the appropriate number of fully equipped officers to a preselected mobilization point within the requesting agency's jurisdiction. The incident commander also deploys a personnel officer, who records each officer's arrival and assigns each one as required.

The Emergency Services Team

In 1987, NIPAS expanded its mission by creating a special tactical squad, known as the Emergency Services Team (EST). Member agencies can deploy the EST for hostage/barricade incidents, high-risk warrant service, major crime scene searches, search and rescue missions, dignitary protection, and similar tactical incidents. In 1989, the EST acquired a fully equipped mobile command post, funded by private-sector contributions. An NIPAS member agency maintains the command post and its equipment.

Member agencies participate in the EST voluntarily. However, if they choose not to supply resources to the team, they may not request its services. Oftentimes, NIPAS agencies with their own Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams elect not to join the EST.

Staffed by 45 police officers from member agencies, the EST includes sharpshooting, containment, entry, and negotiations components. Team members volunteer for EST duty, must receive a favorable recommendation from their chiefs, and undergo rigorous physical and psychological testing prior to selection for the team. Fitness retesting occurs annually, as does firearms qualification for sharpshooters.

NIPAS provides an initial 80-hour basic emergency services team training course, the only SWAT program in the State certified by the Illinois Local Law Enforcement Officers Training and Standards Board. To date, over 300 officers from law enforcement agencies throughout Illinois have received SWAT training through NIPAS.

Followup training consists of a 40-hour advanced training program that all EST officers must attend annually. In addition, the team trains as a group at least one day each month. Some components receive additional training on a regular basis.

Mobile Field Force

Special events can impact negatively on a law enforcement agency not prepared to handle them. The scheduled arrival of World Cup Soccer in the Chicago area in 1994 raised concerns within NIPAS that area law enforcement lacked effective civil disturbance procedures. As a result, NIPAS established an 80-officer Mobile Field Force to respond to such incidents.

The NIPAS board of officers examined several police response systems throughout the country for ideas and identified Florida's Metro-Dade field force concept as the most adaptable to its own needs. The Metro-Dade Police Department provided the initial training for the NIPAS field force.

As is the case with the EST, member agencies participate in the field force voluntarily. By doing so, agencies may request the Mobile Field Force for both planned events, such as rock concerts and sporting events, and spontaneous incidents that may result in a disturbance. Field force officers wear alpha-numeric pagers so they can be summoned at any time.

In 1994, the Mobile Field Force stood ready to respond to World Cup Soccer and mobilized in anticipation of a potential disturbance at a Hell's Angel's funeral. Fortunately, in both instances, the team's services were not required. Today, field force members stay sharp with regular monthly training alone and in concert with the EST, in case both teams are deployed to the same incident.

Additional Resources

In addition to mutual-aid plans, the Emergency Services Team, and the Mobile Field Force, NIPAS provides member agencies access to a language line. This private commercial service provides interpreters by phone for over 140 languages. NIPAS holds the contract and bills agencies only when they use the service, thus saving resources.

As a result of the efforts of NIPAS and other area law enforcement leaders, the Illinois State Police, in conjunction with a private firm, now provides police helicopter assistance to all local, State, and Federal law enforcement agencies in the Chicago area. The helicopters come equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and experienced pilots. The equipment is available around the clock for operations such as search and rescue and fugitive location.


Law enforcement agencies nationwide are discovering the benefits of mutual-aid agreements. As the product of one such agreement, the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System demonstrates that despite limited resources, no department need be overwhelmed by unusual occurrences.

By combining resources with their neighbors, even the smallest departments can implement the most effective methods available, at low cost. In today's crime-ridden society, can any department afford not to take advantage of every means available to protect its citizens?


1 The Northwest Central Dispatch System originated in the late 1960s, partially funded by a Law Enforcement Assistance Administration grant. The service dispatches officers for the six Illinois municipal police departments that own it, as well as for NIPAS.

Chief McCann heads the Buffalo Grove, Illinois, Police Department and is president of the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System. For more information on the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System, write in care of the Buffalo Grove Police Department, 46 Raupp Boulevard, Buffalo Grove, Illinois 60089.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:McCann, Leo C.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Oct 1, 1995
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