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Police in demand to check businesses' security
By Deedra Lawhead | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/4/2009 5:03 PM | Updated: 8/4/2009 10:10 PM

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Originally published Jan. 28, 1993

Hoping to allay fears and improve safety in the wake of the mass murder at a Palatine restaurant, police departments throughout the suburbs are stepping up patrols in commercial areas and making personal visits to businesses to provide security tips.

Not surprisingly, tension is highest in Palatine, where Crime Prevention Officer Brad Grossman has received hundreds of phone calls - "easily 20 calls a day" - from residents or business owners with security questions.

One "neighborhood watch" session planned before the murders attracted a higher-than-expected turnout on Palatine's northeast side. And village Trustee Daniel Varroney is launching an effort he calls "Operation Fresh Start" to create more neighborhood watch programs in the residential areas surrounding the Brown's Chicken & Pasta restaurant where owners Richard and Lynn Ehlenfeldt and five employees were slain Jan. 8.

But such efforts by no means are restricted to Palatine. Police departments as far away as Vernon Hills and Wheaton are making special efforts in response to the murders in Palatine.

"We have a lot of fast-food restaurants in Des Plaines and, like all the others, we've got a lot of young kids working in them," said Mayor D. Michael Albrecht. "The police are making extra stops. They are making sure the businesses are taking the proper precautions and doing what they have to do to make sure that everybody is protected."

In Palatine, Grossman and Varroney, whose district includes Brown's and the surrounding neighborhood, plan a Feb. 10 meeting for residents of the district who want to develop new neighborhood watch programs. The programs are meant to encourage neighbors to observe and report suspicious activity near their home or their neighbors' homes.

Tips also will be offered for members of existing neighborhood watch programs in the area. The meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Palatine Community Center, 200 E. Wood St.

Rather than be fearful observers to uncontrollable events, residents can take action to protect themselves and their neighborhoods, Varroney said.

"We've reached the point in Palatine when it's time to start accentuating the positive and to engage and empower the people," Varroney said.

The effort to add to Palatine's 22 existing neighborhood watch programs is only one of the safety-related programs the police department has sponsored since the murders, which are unsolved. Already, police and schools have held training sessions for businesses, for students who work at night and for parents of teenage employees.

"If there is a positive side to this horrible tragedy, it's that there has been a tremendous unity formed," Grossman said. "And the residents - every time I talk to them, they say, 'I'm not scared to go out, but I'm definitely more aware.' And that's what I want to hear."

"Obviously, you can't eliminate the fear. The anxiety is going to be there," Grossman said. "At the same time, you can help them to be more aware of their own personal safety and security of their homes and their businesses."

Police in other suburbs are making similar efforts, including doing security checks at several other Brown's restaurants. Most police departments have fielded calls from residents or businesses concerned about safety, and in several instances, parents have called to inquire about security for their teenagers who work.

In Barrington, one of Palatine's nearest neighbors, several business owners have called police to ask for increased patrols and the Barrington Area Library asked to discuss security with police.

"What we've been doing is getting out of the car quite a bit and walking the business district," said Police Chief Jeff Marquette. "We've been doing a lot of walking and talking to alleviate people's fears."

Several police departments, such as Vernon Hills and Arlington Heights, offer seminars to provide security advice or are going door-to-door in business areas to discuss safety.

On the day after the Palatine murders, Carol Stream police hand-delivered a letter to 32 fast-food restaurants and convenience stores giving safety tips and offering to do a safety check and address employees about security. So far, one business has responded, said Chief Gary Konzak.

"I was a little surprised more businesses haven't taken us up on the offer," Konzak said.

A Buffalo Grove police officer visited 28 fast-food restaurants Jan. 11 to give security tips, and Wheaton police sent a letter to about 15 franchise restaurants reminding them that the department offers employee training and security surveys of the establishments. Police in Vernon Hills are setting up a meeting for business operators.

Police officials throughout the suburbs say they'll continue to respond to safety concerns.

"We're more than happy to come out and talk with them any day, anytime," said Mount Prospect Crime Prevention Officer William Roscop.

"We don't want people to hesitate to call on us."