Local Police Chiefs Reflect on Peaceful Protest

Hawthorn Woods police chief Jennifer Paulus and Lake Zurich police chief Steve Husak discuss recent protests, civil unrest and use of force policies

In the aftermath of the Minneapolis death of George Floyd, Hawthorn Woods police chief Jennifer Paulus, a lifelong resident of Lake County and a graduate of Lake Zurich high school, began a thorough review of Hawthorn Woods policies on the use of force and civil unrest for her 12-person police department. Paulus reviews department policies annually. It seemed like a good time.

Hawthorn Woods police chief Jennifer Paulus

“There is always a possibility for things to go wrong and I’d rather be prepared. It is our number one priority to protect the Hawthorn Woods community.”

While it’s entirely possible to have civil unrest in Hawthorn Woods, is it probable? Maybe not.

“Civil unrest is not something we deal with in Hawthorn Woods,” Paulus admitted, of the largely affluent and quiet community she serves. With no downtown area and very few retail stores, Hawthorn Woods is an unlikely target for rioters and looters, she said.

Use of Force

According to Paulus, Hawthorn Woods considers chokeholds “deadly force” and would only be used when an officer is in a “fight for life” situation – when a cop’s life is directly threatened. Paulus mentioned that when a subject is under control, “use of force stops,” and anything beyond that is criminal in nature.

Prepared to Assist

Paulus and her team were ready to assist Lake Zurich police when she learned of a Black Lives Matter protest planned at Route 22 and Main streets on June 4. The protest was held to honor the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

The protest, as it turned out, was peaceful, and was organized by Lake Zurich high school student Dana Fleming, 15, with college students Isabelle Jordan, Nick Hervatin and Zach Richards, all from Lake Zurich.

“We had to plan for all the unknowns and we didn’t have a lot of time to plan for it,” said Lake Zurich police chief Steve Husak, who said the students were “a little surprised” when he shared a few possibilities that could happen during a protest—even a peaceful one. For example, in large crowds, anything can happen. For example: Congested traffic. Accidents. Arguments. Heart attacks.

None of that happened, except for one traffic accident that may or may not have been related to the protest, according to Husak.

Large Crowd

With more than 400 reported protesters in attendance, the crowd was large and loud. Protesters began arriving an hour before the event, by bike, by car, and on foot, with signs in hand. Police were already there, in uniforms, in squad cars, on bicycles and in unmarked vehicles and plain clothing.

“I don’t think anyone realized it would get so big,” said Husak.

Lake Zurich police chief Steve Husak

The crowd was respectful and polite to the police, with Mayor Thomas Poynton offering his support to police, as well as to protesters and their constitutional rights to peaceably assemble.

Also speaking at the protest were Lake County Board vice-chair Mary Ross Cunningham, Waukegan Park District commissioner Marc Jones and Kara Yoon, another Lake Zurich student.

Protesters kneeled for eight minutes to honor George Floyd June 4 in Lake Zurich, Ill.

“We’ve seen protests in all 50 states,” said Jones, who praised the students at the rally and called for activism.

“If you have a problem with current legislation, change the legislators. It’s that simple,” he advised the crowd.

“Our self-tied blindfolds may shield us from the blatant racism within our country and our community, and we can pretend that we just don’t see it, but our silence has us siding with the oppressor,” Yoon said at the rally.

“Seeing what these young people were able to plan and accomplish was enlightening. I have more hope for the future,” said one gathereer.

10 Shared Principles

Both Mayor Poynton, in his rally speech, as well as Husak, in an interview, noted that the Lake Zurich department adheres to “10 Shared Principles” in partnership with the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, which supports diversity, rejects discrimination, and embraces de-escalation training for community police.

By Margo Pelak

Margo Pelak is founder and managing editor of the Local Newsreader, which covers hyper-local news in Hawthorn Woods, Lake Zurich and Mundelein. She resides in Hawthorn Woods with her husband Dennis and two wild beasts named Ladybug and Juney P.

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