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Esther Collins v. the Retirement Board of the Policemen's

February 10, 2011

ESTHER COLLINS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE RETIREMENT BOARD OF THE POLICEMEN'S ANNUITY AND BENEFIT FUND OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, STEPHANIE D. NEELY, TRUSTEE, STEVEN
J. LUX, TRUSTEE, GENE R. SAFFOLD, TRUSTEE, JAMES P. MALONEY, TRUSTEE, MICHAEL K. SHIELDS, TRUSTEE, MICHAEL LAZZARO, RECORDING SECRETARY, KENNETH A. HAUSER, VICE PRESIDENT, ROBERT F. REUSCHE, PRESIDENT, AND JOHN J. GALLAGHER, JR., EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County 09 CH 20737

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Daniel A. Riley,

Judge Presiding. JUSTICE McBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Garcia and Justice Cahill concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Plaintiff Esther Collins appeals from the circuit court's order affirming the administrative decision of defendants, the Retirement Board of the Policemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund of the City of Chicago (the Board), which denied Collins' application for pension service credits for her work as a police dispatcher aide, a civilian employee, for the Chicago police department.

On appeal, Collins argues that the Board's interpretation of section 5-214(c) of the Illinois Pension Code (40 ILCS 5/5-214(c) (West 2008)) was clearly erroneous when it held that her position as a police dispatcher aide, a civilian employee, did not qualify for credit as prior other service.

On March 20, 2009, Collins filed a letter with the Board seeking pension credit for priorservice with the Chicago police department under section 5-214(c) of the Illinois Pension Code

(40 ILCS 5/5-214(c) (West 2008)). Section 5-214(c) allows members of the Policemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund to receive credit for prior service "while performing investigative work for the department as a civilian employee of the department." 40 ILCS 5/5-214(c) (West 2008). In her letter, Collins stated that she had been employed as a police officer with the Chicago police department since May 6, 1996, and was required to take mandatory retirement on April 19, 2009. Prior to her employment as a police officer, Collins worked as a police dispatcher aide with the Chicago police department from February 28, 1990, to April 30, 1996. Collins requested her years of service as a police dispatcher aide to be credited to her years of service as a police officer with the Policemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago.

In the letter, Collins described her duties as a police dispatcher aide as follows.

"As a Police Dispatcher Aide, I was the first person involved in the police investigation. I elicited key investigative and safety information from 911 callers to determine the appropriate resources needed for police service, e.g., the nature of the emergency/incident/request/complaint, incident location, offender's description, if weapons were involved, weapon location, offender's direction of flight, offender's vehicle description, and victim's medical condition. As I was obtaining this information, I was simultaneously preparing a dispatch report for dispatch. In situations where I received 911 calls for police service that were not emergency in nature, I was vested with the discretion not to prepare dispatch reports for police service and referred these non-police emergency calls to the appropriate City Departments or agencies. I also prepared lookout and wanted messages, and documents for dispatch of traffic, evidence technician and police crime laboratory units to scenes of emergency incidents. I was also LEADS certified as a Police Dispatcher Aide which allowed me the authority to conduct license plate and name checks. In addition, I translated Spanish speaking 911 calls for police service from Spanish to English and elicited key investigative and safety information from these Spanish speaking callers for dispatch."

On April 29, 2009, the Board conducted an administrative hearing on Collins' petition for service credits during its monthly meeting. Collins submitted multiple documents and testified before the Board. One of the documents presented to the Board was the "Job Opportunity Bid Announcement" from February 17, 1989, which described the position of police dispatcher aide. The bid announcement stated the duties of the position.

"Monitors zone and city wide communication consoles, and responds to complaints and/or request for police service from the public via the 911 system. Solicits descriptive information such as nature of complaint and location of the incident. Prepares radio dispatch cards. Prepares lookout and wanted messages and other notifications for filed units. Prepares necessary documents for dispatch of traffic, evidence technician and police crime laboratory units to scene of incident. Coordinates request for field vehicle repair service. Receives and refers non-police related calls to appropriate City department or agency. Performs related duties as required."

Collins testified that she was "always an inside person" and she did not go outside on the street with other police officers as part of her job function. Collins stated that she would take the information from a call and "once the information was taken, [she] would hand it over to the dispatcher to be dispatched." The information was entered onto cards, which were placed into a slot for a messenger to take except if it was a high priority call, then she would hand-deliver the card to the dispatcher. Collins admitted that once she took the information, that was the end of her involvement. However, Collins stated that in some instances she would make notifications to different departments and she also ran name and license plate checks.

Collins testified that she did not work directly with members of the general public to translate Spanish. Her role was to translate calls from Spanish-speaking callers, but she did not handle individual translation requests from police officers. Collins stated that she had the discretion to decide whether to pass on information on prank calls. She also prepared lookout and wanted messages for which she would ask for information, such as, whether there were any warrants, the number where the person could be met, and whether he or she had any information for the police. Collins made notifications when requests for evidence technicians or the crime lab were made by filling out a form and then making the call. Collins stated that she did not substitute for the dispatcher if the dispatcher was sick or on a break.

When asked why she waited from 1996 to 2009 to apply for the pension service credit, Collins responded, "I always thought of doing it, but I guess I just procrastinated." A Board member asked ...


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