© 2024 WXPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Relieving ‘Controlled Chaos’: Forest County Referendum To Address Jailer, Dispatcher Staffing

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Forest County’s jail control and dispatch center is a room full of windows.  It views cell blocks with no windows.

Screens flash, sirens buzz, and the intercom beeps.

“It’s professional multitasking, or, as we like to call it, controlled chaos,” said Forest County Jail Administrator Josh Bradley with a chuckle.  “It’s like a small city in here, and we’re responsible for every aspect of it.”

The jail’s capacity is 88 inmates.

It’s below that number now, but it still feels hectic.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Forest County jail control and dispatch center.

Two people, called jailer/dispatchers, staff the pod.

The setup is a rarity.  Forest County is one of just a few counties in which jailers and dispatchers do both jobs at once.  That means they’re responsible for both supervising inmates and taking emergency calls.

“There are some days you go out of here and you’re wiped,” said jailer/dispatcher Dan Huettl, who worked in the Oneida County Jail for years and also worked for the state prison system.

This is different, he said, juggling dispatching and monitoring inmates simultaneously.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Jailer/dispatcher Dan Huettl in front of a board controlling doors and intercoms in the jail.

“I’ve had two traffic stops, a 911 call, paging out an ambulance, and then, you’ve got this [jail] stuff going on,” Huettl said.  “There’s an attorney here.  ‘Can I see my client?’ and ‘Can you get this door for me?’”

The “controlled chaos” might be lulled soon.  Next Tuesday, Forest County voters can authorize the hiring of six new workers for a split jail control and dispatch center.

In a referendum, voters will decide whether to raise their own property taxes by almost nine percent to accomplish that.

Bradley called the decision a safety issue.

“You cannot provide undivided attention to one or the other.  It’s a conflict.  I feel it needs to be addressed.  That’s what this referendum is about,” he said.

“If you have a family member or a friend or yourself that has to make an emergency call, whether it be 911 or otherwise, for fire, rescue, or whatever it be, who do you want answering that call?  Do you want somebody that’s preoccupied with an inmate that’s asking for toilet paper?  Or do you want somebody who is solely dedicated to providing you with the emergency services that you are requesting and needing?”

The county already has authorization to create a new dispatch center, separate from jail control.  Now, it just needs the money to staff it.  If the referendum succeeds, many of those situations of conflict would be avoided.

“It just seems that any time the public has an emergency and they call 911, it seems like an inmate has an emergency too,” Bradley said.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
A corrections officer patrols the halls at the Forest County Jail.

If the referendum passes, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay an extra $38 annually in property taxes.

Bradley understands that higher taxes may be a concern to some voters.  But he argued safety is a good tradeoff.

Right now, his crew is barely keeping up.  Dispatch has taken more than 22,000 calls so far this year, up 59 percent from a year ago.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Forest County Jail Administrator Josh Bradley.

“I don’t see a break in the action,” Bradley said.  “We need help.”

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
Up North Updates
* indicates required
Related Content