16 May 2009

Election Night Escapades east of Eden.

A good friend of mine who is a Naperville Police officer sent me this story. It was written by fellow NPD Officer Mike Zegadlo. Police One has the story linked up as well here.

I was working that night too. I didn't get a chance to interact with any suburban departments but the sporadic violence, and multiple shots fired calls definitely got down played by the media. The MSM would have no negative news about "Obama supporters" getting out of hand. Oh no, it was "historic!"

Naperville gets some good natured ribbing from CPD for the obvious reasons....they patrol in areas that are light-years away from what Chicago police deal with. But still, they're a good group of cops and - this one - is a pretty good writer...

Here's the whole article. Enjoy...

"Two Uses for a Sharpie"
By Mike Zegadlo

Having worked Monday night, I decided I would get a couple hours of sleep and let the lines at the polls diminish a bit before venturing out to cast my vote. My decision paid off, as I approached the election judge with no waiting. After confirming my identification, I was handed a "Sharpie" permanent marker and my blank ballot. I wielded my Sharpie with the determination of an 11th grader driving for the 95th percentile on his ACT, skillfully shading the bubbles next to my candidates of choice. With the beep of the electronic confirmation verifying my ballot had been counted, I returned home to catch a few more hours of sleep before embarking on my election night adventure.

Our designated ILEAS (Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System) Region 4 West rally point was Berwyn PD. We loaded our three unmarked "tac" cars, dialed in the GPS, and made our way east on Ogden Avenue. The trip passed quickly, mainly because I was fascinated by the opportunity to not only ride in, but actually drive an unmarked squad. Who knew the Impalas had CD changers and a jack for my media player? Betrayed by the "random" setting on my iPod, I found myself explaining to McLean why tracks by Modonna and Michael Jackson kept popping up between Incubus and Korn.

We were to stage at Berwyn PD, awaiting a possible, but unlikely call-out by Chicago. Berwyn looks a lot more like Chicago than Naperville does, but at least we were still technically in the "suburbs." Chicago was expecting a million people at the downtown rally. They cancelled leave for all 13,000 Officers and invoked the City's mutual aid agreement with suburban departments via ILEAS. They were clearly preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.

Ideally, we'd eat pizza and watch the election results on CNN, passing the night with our group of 163 comrades from various western suburban departments. McLean and I shared our mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension and confessed our common conundrum of wives wishing we had not accepted the assignment. We were, simply, excited to be part of something bigger than us. And if eating pizza with our brethren in blue was our way to contribute, then by golly, we were up for the challenge.

Berwyn's Chief Kushner, a Chicago styled cop, who minced no words and made no secret of his loyalty to and concern for his troops, was at the microphone as we arrived in the community room. There was no pizza. "Chicago PD has called for ILEAS to deploy immediately…two potential threats have already been intercepted…Get in your teams, grab your radios and saddle up…We're heading to Area 4 Headquarters at Harrison and Kedzie."

This was not the welcome any of us had anticipated. After the briefest of briefings, each team was handed a roll of duct tape and instructed to apply the versatile problem solver to the windows of each squad. "This'll help when they start throwin' rocks and bottles," - a certainly unanticipated precaution. Once again, I found myself being handed a "Sharpie."

"Write your team name and info on one of your hands with the marker…if you're found somewhere, we'll know where to return you," boomed Chief Kushner from the podium. The six of us, plus our two valiant park district cousins, paused for just a moment to share a quizzical glance. None of us were entirely sure what "if you're found" was supposed to mean. Fearing the worst, we didn't inquire. Nervously, I scribbled the letters, "ILEAS west TEAM 2C," the call sign applied to Hochy and me for the next several hours, onto my left hand.

With our windows adequately taped and our hands appropriately labeled we clumsily strapped our gas masks to our legs and reset the GPS for Harrison and Kedzie. Having grown up on the south side, I knew what Harrison and Kedzie looks like. It's a long way from the half million dollar houses on Sassafras Lane. This was not what any of us had expected, but, yet, there was a sense of excitement present within the sheer terror I was experiencing.

What happened next was one of the most amazing things I've seen in my brief career in law enforcement: 163 Officers in half as many squads running "code 2" in a convoy from Berwyn PD to Area 4 HQ via I-290. What must people have been thinking as we virtually took over the interstate? That's when the magnitude of the event began to hit me. I was small part of a magnificent and amazing thing. On a night when history would be made, I had the privilege of working side by side with this group of intrepid warriors to preserve the peace. I simultaneously felt smaller and larger than I'd ever been before.

With the exhilaration of the caravan code run behind us, our arrival at Area 4 was anti-climactic to say the least. We met our Chicago PD team leader, Lt. Kelenyi, whose first orders to us were, "go get some dinner and we'll see ya in a hour." Instead of charging headlong into the heart of darkness, I found myself munching an egg plant parmesan at Ricobenes at 26th and Canal. Well, if that's what it took to keep the world safe, I was prepared to do it…with or without extra mozzarella.

We were tasked to stage at 69th and Ashland following our high carb, low drag meal break. We'd been reassigned from the west side to the south side which, given my childhood familiarity with the area, served to mitigate my apprehension considerably.

The folks at the strip mall didn't know what hit them as we filed into the lot, filling nearly every parking space. We assembled in our teams. Team 2 was Naperville, Naperville Park District, Roselle, and Westchester. Two hours past with the only mission undertaken, being Krzos and me running a recon excursion to locate the nearest Dunkin Donuts for a cup. (MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, by the way).

Then came the announcement of Obama having accumulated sufficient electoral votes to secure the presidency. As a former history and political science teacher, my mind momentarily wandered, considering how future historians would reflect on this event. I was jolted abruptly back to the here-and-now by what would be the first of many volleys of automatic gunfire. The CPD radio I'd been issued erupted in a cacophony of chatter. "Shots fired…foot pursuit…man with a gun…burglary in progress…criminal damage in progress…man down!" It was as if our dispatchers had pulled tape of every significant incident they would broadcast in an entire year, edited them together in a sequence and looped the tape to run in a 15 minute cycle. As we listened to CPD officers responding on the radio and watched as their cool blue LED lights whizzed by our strip mall, we realized that a "shots fired" call in Chicago doesn't mean 5 teenage kids with a pack a fire crackers. Suddenly those dorky looking Kevlar helmets we'd packed didn't seem like such a bad idea.

Our casual conversation turned to nervous discussions about when best to chamber a round in our rifles or how many pairs of "flex-cuffs" we had. I suddenly found myself trying to remember exactly what Chief Kushner (Mike Kushner, formerly of 025) had said about use of force rules at our briefing. Then, ILEAS Team 1 was deployed. We were on deck. Within a minute of Team 1 hitting the streets our number was up.

"ILEAS west Team 2, we need you at 67th and Ashland to secure that area." I remember the twinge in my neck as I whacked my helmet covered cranium on the door frame getting into the Impala. Now the CD player seemed inconsequential in lieu of the wider door opening on the Crown Vic. We filed into the eight unit caravan and headed north on Ashland, Code 2, to lay siege to our assigned intersection.

It was reminiscent of so much CNN coverage I'd seen of GIs in conveys barreling through the streets of Falujah. We were awkward in our combat gear as we peered through the taped windows. Angry locals jeered and gestured from the roadside as we passed, some leaping out into the street, lunging at our cars. An officer from a different team learned the hard way that windows-up was the safest way to pass after catching a random fist in the face from a reveler.

As we screeched into our destination, the crowd dispersed, presumably in response to our display of force. We found a man in his fifties bleeding from the head, lying in a parking lot, unconscious and unresponsive. Witnesses simply said some guy beat him up and ran off. CPD arrived quickly and took over the scene, calling for an ambulance. With the scene stabilized, we were promptly redeployed. Our job tonight was not to investigate or linger. We were being used as shock and awe to bring overwhelming force quickly and decisively to restore order and move on. There was no time for pens and notebooks, recording names and dates of birth, or interviewing witnesses as we're all programmed to do.

We moved on from location to location in this manner for about 2 hours; charging in, looking menacing. CPD were in standard patrol uniforms, no helmets or gas masks. When we showed up, geared up, the reaction commonly was, "Uh Oh, they called out the SWAT team!" Until, of course, some curious onlooker would wander close enough to read the shoulder patch. "Naperville, they brought Naperville up in here?" Then the hoax was up.

After a few small skirmishes including a street fight between two homeless females over a 40 ounce of "Bud," CPD command released all mutual aid units at about 0030 hrs. We broke to return to Berwyn.

On the ride back we reflected on our experience. It was awesome to be part of such a significant event. More importantly, it was awesome none of us got hurt. I was amazed at the amount of planning, collaboration and coordination that went into to pulling off something of such magnitude. From the miniscule logistics of making sure there were enough radios and providing parking, to the command and control structure; the entire mechanism ran smoothly, safely and effectively.

The opportunity to see how the other half lives was very enlightening. I'll never quite see my job the same. On one hand, I'm grateful that as an NPD officer, I have the time to talk to people, to stop and lend a hand, to ask a few extra questions. Conversely, I'll be looking through a different lens the next time I take a report of a damaged mailbox or missing campaign sign. I'll stop at that moment and wonder, just for a minute, what call our brothers and sisters in Chicago are heading to and if they'll be safe when they get there.

As I write this, I can still faintly see the shadow of the letters, "ILEAS" on the back of my left hand; a subtle reminder of my participation in this amazing event.

I'll never look at a Sharpie the same way again.


Anonymous said...

This is all lies. I saw the news, everything was fine. The only trouble was caused by the police, harassing folks on the street, spraying mace at them.

Rue St. Michel said...

Jeez Roscoe - do you ever sleep?