You train and you train and you train and you train. Then something happens you weren’t prepared for – like a shooter on a roof during a parade – and you adjust. You train some more.
Still, you can’t prepare for everything.
“We would love to be proactive, but our jobs are mostly reactive,” Rock Falls Police Deputy Chief Mark Davis said.
“You never know what’s going to happen, and there’s no way you can train for every possible scenario.”
That doesn’t mean they don’t try, however, he said.
That’s the general takeaway from members of Sauk Valley law enforcement, all of whom are thinking and talking this week about ways to adjust security preparations in the wake of Monday’s Highland Park parade shooting, in which a gunman killed seven people and injured dozens more.
It’s the same process they went through after a Wisconsin man plowed his car through the crowd at a Christmas parade in November in Waukesha, killing six people and also injuring dozens.
That incident also sparked security conversations at local police departments – and prompted a change for Sunday’s Petunia Festival parade.
After Dixon police discussed the potential for such an incident here, they wound up borrowing water barricades – large plastic barrels filled with 100 gallons of water that are designed to stop a car when hit – and placed them strategically “to keep traffic flowing away from large crowds,” Dixon Police Chief Steve Howell said.
The department will use more barricades next year, Howell said.
It’s an adjustment.
“We look at what we’re doing and try to find areas where we can add or take extra precautions,” he said.
“We are trying to think of every possible scenario, but we can’t think of every scenario. You can only protect so many areas.”
Law enforcement also will look at ways to monitor rooftops during big outdoor events, such as the upcoming annual Fiesta Day Parade, which runs along a 2-mile route between Sterling and Rock Falls. It will take place Sept. 17 this year.
“We didn’t think about this before, but now we have to, and we have to address to whatever degree we have the resources to address it,” Rock Falls Police Chief Dave Pilgrim said. “We can’t get up on every single roof.”
Plus, there are privacy issues; police can’t just enter private buildings or climb on rooftops without owners’ permission.
What they will do this year is collaborate more with Sterling police. Usually, Sterling police handle their side of the river, and Rock Falls handles theirs. The departments likely will set up a joint command center this year, Pilgrim said.
Sterling Police Chief Alejandro “Alex” Chavira is thinking along the same lines, especially with the Fiesta Days parade looming.
“I’ll talk to the Rock Falls chief and we’ll come up with a game plan,” Chavira said.
The Highland Park shooting hits close to home for Chavira. Two friends of his were among the wounded, he said.
“We’re going to implement every safety precaution we can,” he said. “You have to think like a bad guy and try to mitigate potential problems.
“You can’t stay in your home all day for fear something will happen. Our goal is to make sure everyone feels safe and everything goes off without a hitch.”
There’s a fine balance, however, between keeping everyone safe and feeling safe and scaring everyone off.
“The last thing I want to do is have the guys doing traffic patrol out there in SWAT gear,” Pilgrim said.
Speaking of traffic patrol, personnel also is an issue. Most departments don’t allow time off during big events, so they have enough officers to handle traffic and patrol the crowds, keeping an eye out for trouble. Off-duty officers from other departments often are hired to help out.
Like businesses, however, all departments are having trouble keeping their ranks full. That can affect security measures.
It’s not the first time a shooting in the national news has sparked concerns locally.
“After the shooting in Las Vegas, everybody looked at their outdoor large events with a fresh set of eyes,” Pilgrim said.
On Oct. 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd attending a music festival; 60 people were killed and 413 injured.