Suburbs on alert, but so far little impact from NATO
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Updated: October 24, 2012 10:09PM
This weekend’s NATO Summit in downtown Chicago may seem worlds away from the suburbs, but authorities throughout the region are preparing for any problems that could spill out of the city.
So far, though, police departments haven’t reported any problems like the rallies that have taken place this week in the city. And many suburban hotel managers said their rooms are mainly booked to tourists and wedding parties and even factory workers — and not protesters.
Assistant Manager Tamme Crater laughed when asked if she has any NATO protest groups booked at her Wingate Hotel in Joliet.
“Heck no. Do you think anyone’s going to get any rooms in Joliet with the Caterpillar (people) here?” she said.
The Machinists union, which represents about 780 workers at the Joliet-area Caterpillar facility, went on strike May 1.
Rooms at the Fairfield Inn and Suites are sold out until May 21, General Manager Ashlei Birch said.
“That is my whole hotel,” she said. “I am full with Caterpillar.”
Still, police are preparing for the worst.
“Anything that could happen in downtown Chicago could happen here,” conceded Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy, though he said he expects most protesters to “go where they publicity is” — downtown.
Suburban police and fire departments have been prepping for months, working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, conducting exercises on civil disobedience and monitoring area hotels and populated venues.
Some departments, such as Norridge, have canceled time off for their officers, or put them on stand-by, like Harwood Heights.
Blue Island police Chief Doug Hoglund said he didn’t do either, but said extra full-timers will be on duty during the summit.
“It’s precautionary,” Hoglund said. “We don’t anticipate anything. There have been no credible threats.”
Park Ridge Deputy Police Chief David Keller said officers from his department and neighboring forces have been training and sharing intelligence. Training has involved handling crowd control, reviewing the Constitutional rights of protesters and planning for “worst-case scenarios” such as protesters blocking streets or preventing Metra trains and buses from running, said Keller, whose department spent about $1,400 on shields, shin guards, elbow pads, gloves and equipment bags.
Hotels and restaurants in the south suburbs have been alerted to watch for anything unusual, said Jim Garrett, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Southland Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We’re telling them ‘If you see something, say something,’” he said. “We want to be proactive, not over-reactive.”
At the Hilton Lisle/Naperville, director of the front office Lisa Vasicek said sales staff members were alerted weeks ago to track bookings for this weekend.
“We have kept tabs on this through the sales staff, but at this point, we have a few weddings booked here this weekend and that’s about it,” Vasicek said. “We’re actually expecting a quiet weekend.”
And if there are to be protests in the suburbs, there’s a good chance they will be home-grown: Leaders of Naperville’s Occupy Movement said they are planning a “teach-in” Saturday in Naperville on the topic “Why the Occupy Movement is Protesting the NATO Conference.” But they know of no outside protest groups coming to their town.
They are planning to take the train into Chicago on Sunday to take part in the protests planned there. Northwest Indiana Veterans for Peace will be there too, said Nick Egnatz, a Munster, Ind., resident and member of the group. They’ll be joining the Iraq Veterans Against the War protesting on Sunday.
“NATO is used by the U.S. to give a semblance of decorum to our policy of empire,” Egnatz said.
Phil Mueller, a Vietnam War veteran and Crown Point, Ind. resident, said he, too, plans on marching Sunday and is upset that NATO still exists, even though it hasn’t been needed since the late 1980s. He argued that it only serves to keep the United States in wars that don’t affect the country.
“It provides a machinery for war,” he said.
Contributing: Janet Lundquist, Mike Danahey, Matt Schmitz, Susan DeMar Lafferty, Steve Metsch, Dan Cassidy, Cathryn Gran, Teresa Auch Schultz