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Protestors, Aurora police both hoping for quiet day
By Amy Boerema | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/17/2007 12:36 AM

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Protest organizers and Aurora police both say they're hoping today's anti-abortion picket is problem-free, despite claims by some protesters of police intimidation at past events.

Hundreds are expected at today's rally, which will be from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Planned Parenthood clinic at 3051 E. New York St. on the city's far east side.

Things heated up again between protesters and police at a city council meeting this week, after abortion opponents accused officers of violating their First Amendment rights.

The complaints came in the wake of an October protest in which demonstrators said police gave them unclear directives.

And it's not the first time they have accused officers of causing confusion.

A lawsuit against the city accusing police of intimidation and harassment was first filed in August. That case is pending.

At Tuesday's meeting, Police Chief William Powell said his department has "bent over backward" to accommodate protesters. From now on, all city rules will be followed, he said, or arrests could be made.

Issues that have caused past confusion include the locations where protesters can picket, if they require permits and if loudspeakers can be used.

On Friday, Pro-Life Action League organizer Eric Scheidler said he'll do everything he can to ensure his group follows orders "to the degree that we can even understand them."

Protesters say the city keeps changing the rules and refuses to provide clear, written explanations of what they can and can't do.

"What they have done is show up and intimidate hundreds of Aurora citizens with an armored paddy wagon, constant video surveillance and the city's lawyer in tow," Scheidler said.

Powell said his officers have used their own discretion at past events, often to accommodate protesters.

"But they've pushed us to the limit," he said Friday. "I'm not saying that in a bad way, because they're passionate for what they're out there for. But they're not realizing other folks have rights, too."

He said he's anticipating some confusion today, but police also are expecting compliance.

"Our intent is not to go out and arrest folks," he said. "But we have to be consistent from this point on and enforce the laws that are on the books. If we say, 'You're in violation, move over there,' all we're asking them to do is move. To me, it's real simple."

Scheidler said they want to understand city ordinances but they seem to keep changing. "It's confusing and it makes it impossible for us to know what to expect," he said.

Powell said he's not anticipating any major issues today, but "we have to make sure we're prepared just in case."