Why Schaumburg might require permits for large political rallies near Woodfield
Schaumburg officials may require permits for the large political gatherings that have been become nearly weekly occurrences at the prominent intersection of Golf and Meacham roads, as well as establishing criteria to disperse crowds if they become unruly and aggressive.
Though they have been mostly peaceful, the pro-Trump rallies and counter-protests they've attracted since the fall -- succeeding the Black Lives Matter groups of last summer -- have resulted in some arrests, a couple of traffic crashes and about $150,000 in police overtime costs, Schaumburg Police Chief Bill Wolf said.
Some proposed regulatory changes the village board will consider on Tuesday, June 22, include requiring an advance permit that enables the police department to properly allocate resources, similar to those necessary for carnivals, special events or any other kind of gathering of more than 50 people or 25 vehicles, Wolf said.
That would allow the department to work with organizers to get an estimate of the crowd size and make them responsible for the financial cost of the police presence necessary to ensure public safety, he added.
"These protests have been a significant drain on our police resources, but they have not required a permit," Wolf said. "We're hopeful this will allow us to plan better."
A memo from the village's legal team clarifies that greater regulation is allowable, but the First Amendment bans making the content or cause of a rally a determining factor in any crowd control decisions.
That is far from the intent of the proposed regulations, said Trustee Frank Kozak, chair of the village's public safety committee.
"This is kind of a tough one," said Kozak, whose committee reviewed the proposal last week. "You don't want to take away people's First Amendment rights, but, on the other hand, we don't want them to get out of hand and be a nuisance or hazard on different corners. ... We're not saying 'no' to protesters because everyone has a right to their opinion. We're looking for a happy medium here."
Wolf said police have tried twice to reduce their presence at the intersection during the rallies, but had to revert to previous staffing levels due to fighting and other issues. Assistance from other police agencies was even required on two occasions.
Seven people have been cited with village ordinance violations and four people have been arrested during the rallies for such offenses as battery and possession of a weapon.
A reported incident over the weekend remains under investigation but could potentially increase that tally, Wolf said. According to a preliminary report, a person not involved with the group stopped his vehicle, grabbed signs away from a participant, causing that person to fall down, and then attempted to leave the scene.
The criteria for dispersal being sought would involve the size and actions of the crowd; the number of people complying; the impact on public safety, traffic, pedestrians, area businesses and residents; available police resources; past problems with the group or its members; and the ability to identify those involved for future citations.
Individual arrests on a particular day would not necessarily trigger an order to disperse, Wolf said.
Under the authority he's seeking, he estimated that only about two or three previous gatherings would have been broken up.
The proposed regulations also lay out procedures for breaking up crowds as peacefully as possible. That occurred last summer when the organizers of a Black Lives Matter gathering fully cooperated with a dispersal order when the rhetoric of some people present became especially heated, Wolf said.
"With that one, we did get good cooperation from the organizer," he added. "They did a good job in assisting us in dispersing it."
Kozak said that even though his committee has reviewed the proposed regulations, he couldn't predict whether the full village board would be ready to approve them next week or require further discussion and research.