‘We’ve got to be ready’: Suburban police gearing up for political conventions this summer

With the national political conventions in Chicago and Milwaukee just weeks away, some suburban law enforcement agencies are preparing for an influx of visitors as well as protests and other activities that could require their intervention.

The Lake County sheriff’s office and the Rosemont Public Safety Department already have been asked to assist Chicago police when the Democratic National Convention occurs Aug. 19-22 at the United Center.

Other departments will be on alert for trouble in their communities during that gathering or its Republican counterpart, which is set for July 15-18 at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum and other venues.

  Key Republican National Convention events will be held at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. Marni Pyke/

50,000 visitors expected

The Democratic convention is expected to draw an estimated 50,000 visitors and massive protests. Law enforcement agencies have been planning for the event for more than a year.

With dozens of organizations planning to demonstrate, police preparations include lessons in de-escalation techniques and specializing training for civil unrest and possible riots, Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling said during a news conference last week.

Snelling may also get help from outside the city.

The Lake County sheriff’s office has been asked to send deputies to Chicago for service during the convention, Deputy Chief Chris Covelli said. Their potential responsibilities haven’t been laid out yet.

“Once we have more information we will make a determination on if we are able to spare personnel and how many,” Covelli said.

The sheriff’s office also is receiving and reviewing bulletins from the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Homeland Security Department and Illinois State Police about the conventions, Covelli said. Lake County Homeland Security Director Michael Jackson has been communicating with federal and local agencies ahead of the events, too.

Rosemont police have been speaking with the Secret Service about being called into action in Chicago, Sgt. Joe Balogh said. Plans are fluid.

Rosemont police expect additional traffic and people in town during the convention.

“We have had the opportunity to participate in several other major events and visits that have come through Rosemont,” he said. “(It’s) nothing we haven’t experienced or trained for already.”

‘We will be vigilant’

Vernon Hills Police Chief Patrick L. Kreis, president of the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System emergency response team, said suburban police leaders need to be prepared for possible civil unrest and other contingencies during the conventions.

“If there is going to be trouble or unrest, we don’t know where it’s going to be,” he said. “We've got to be ready.”

Mundelein police will be looking out for demonstrations or other potentially disruptive activities, Chief Jason Seeley said. That means monitoring social media, reaching out to people organizing gatherings, communicating with police in neighboring communities and being observant on patrol.

“In today’s social and political environment, our staff recognizes any event has the potential to develop or transform into a situation that requires our attention,” Seeley said. “We will be vigilant.”

The department also will communicate with the federal and state agencies working the conventions.

No staffing adjustments are planned in Mundelein, Seeley said, but that could change closer to the conventions.

“If pre-event intelligence suggests we should increase staffing, we will do so,” he said.

Preparing for the political conventions fits into the Schaumburg Police Department’s existing strategies to deal with increased activity during the summer, Cmdr. Christy Lindhurst said.

“We work in close partnership with our hotel staff and management to ensure we are aware of occupancy numbers, large groups and events,” Lindhurst said. “In addition, we will be continuing to closely monitor all potential crowds and activities throughout the summer.”

Des Plaines police aren’t planning any special operations during either convention. But the department will be ready to respond to emergencies in town or in neighboring communities if needed, Cmdr. Matt Bowler said.

Elgin police haven’t received any special directives for the convention dates but are trained to handle civil disorder, crowd control and protests, Sgt. Mike Martino said.

Wheeling police don’t expect convention-related troubles to spill into their town. Rather, officials are looking at the gatherings — each of which is about an hour’s drive from Wheeling — as potential positives.

“We are hoping that our hotels and restaurants get some business during both conventions,” Police Chief Jamie Dunne said.

· Daily Herald Staff Writer Mick Zawislak and wire services contributed to this report.

Chicago hosted the Democratic National Convention in August 1968. Protesters packed the streets and clashed with police. Courtesy of Bernie Kleina/AP

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