Suburban police step up presence for NATO
Squads of specially equipped suburban police officers will be ready to react to any NATO-related problems spilling into the suburbs this weekend, and law enforcement agencies also will increase patrols around major buildings and transit centers.
Suburban law enforcement agencies have spent months preparing for scenarios ranging from protests to a terror attack as the leaders of the world's most powerful countries converge on Chicago beginning today.
A coalition of specially equipped officers with advanced training and gear for large crowd control and mass arrests will be spread throughout the suburbs, though there are no threats of violence locally, police chiefs say. The officers are from 94 police departments from across the suburbs that are members of the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System.
NIPAS, a mutual aid organization consisting of a few officers from each department, has a team that trains year-round for a "major civil disturbance."
Squads of NIPAS officers equipped with specialized vehicles, gas masks, helmets, shields and body armor will be stationed in a number of strategic locations throughout the suburbs today through Monday, said Warrenville Police Chief Raymond Turano.
"They are going to be staged in peripheral areas ... where they can go in to assist with anything," he said. "They are not going to be responding to the city of Chicago."
Suburban police chiefs say their departments also will ramp up patrols around major buildings, transportation hubs and critical infrastructure this weekend.
Some forces are concentrating on the headquarters of Fortune 500 companies, as about 20 are located in the suburbs.
Warrenville officers, for example, will be increasing surveillance and patrol around the nuclear division of energy giant Exelon.
"It's really more of a precaution," Turano said.
Police departments have been working with neighboring towns to prepare for the summit and share information, and also have been gathering intelligence from state, regional and federal agencies, said Arlington Heights Police Capt. Nicholas Pecora.
"The police department is cognizant of where domestic or international terrorists would strike to disrupt the community," Pecora said. "We will have resources stationed in that area."
Hinsdale Police Chief Brad Bloom, president of the DuPage Chiefs of Police, said the county had been talking about security plans for the summit for about 8 months.
"We have worked to identify targets within the county, and they are certainly part of our plan," Bloom said.
It's the first time a NATO summit has been held anywhere in the U.S. other than Washington, and that is drawing protesters from around the country to Chicago. Although the delegations from about 60 countries, including 50 heads of state, will not begin meeting until Sunday and Monday, protesters began arriving in Chicago by bus Wednesday night.
"We are taking a wait-and-see approach," Pecora said. "Should the Occupy group and other protest groups start to filter into the suburbs, we are prepared."
Pecora and neighboring police chiefs said their departments have been monitoring Internet "chatter" for any indication of threats and indications that protesters could be headed their way.
"Certainly there are plans in place should it become necessary for mass arrests," said Naperville Police Chief David Dial before his retirement this week.
The U.S. Secret Service is coordinating security for the summit, and the Chicago Police will be assisted by officers from Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. Suburban law enforcement officials say they are focusing their efforts on their own communities and sending officers to Chicago would be a last resort.
"They might change their minds based upon the size, number and location of protesters, so they are sort of on the standby mode at this time," Dial said. "They may be called in there."
In the months leading up to this weekend's summit, some suburban departments have used the event as a reason to upgrade outdated crowd control gear.
Arlington Heights purchased crowd control gear in the '70s during protests at a former military base on Central Road, but had not updated much of the equipment since, Pecora said. The department purchased new gear ahead of the summit and the equipment will be issued on an "as needed basis" this weekend, he said.
Others departments that were not a part of NIPAS have joined ahead of the summit and plan on staying a part of the mutual aid system, which costs municipalities about $1,200 a year plus a one-time payment of about $1,200 to equip an officer. A memo from Warrenville Police Chief Turano in February urged the city to join NIPAS ahead of the summit because DuPage County did not have the capability to handle large unruly crowds.
"The resources that NIPAS offers we could not replicate on our own within the same time we had to prepare for this and the same cost," Bloom said.
Warrenville and a slew of DuPage municipalities including Wood Dale, West Chicago joined NIPAS in early 2012. Hinsdale joined in March.
"We have been preparing for a while, and I hope our plan A and plan B are not needed this week," Pecora said.