Ill. sheriff criticized for holding parade that drew large crowd
Sheriff James Mendrick said he was surprised to see 400 vehicles at the staging area for what was supposed to be a social distancing-friendly parade
DUPAGE COUNTY, Ill. — A parade organized by the DuPage County sheriff is drawing criticism for packing hundreds of participants into a parking lot at the same time the governor is urging people to avoid congregating in large groups.
Sheriff James Mendrick said he knew immediately he was going to take some heat when he arrived Sunday afternoon at the staging area of the family-friendly Cruise for Kids parade. The event, intended to offer something "fun for the kids” during the coronavirus pandemic, included 400 first-responder vehicles, big rigs and muscle cars driving through neighborhoods in West Chicago and Carol Stream.
State Rep. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago, said a relative showed her photos of the staging location with people standing side-by-side without masks, and she questioned the scope of the parade while the governor is asking people to stay at home.
“This is wholly unacceptable,” Villa said.
Mendrick said his department expected about 250 vehicles for the parade, but 400 showed up in a parking lot at Route 59 and North Avenue in West Chicago.
“It shocked me when I saw it,” Mendrick said. “The first thing I said was this is not a good thing.”
The sheriff said people spontaneously showed up after information about the parade and the route was posted on social media. He said his department underestimated the public’s desire to be outdoors and participate in “something overwhelmingly positive.”
Lining up at the DuPage Cruise for KidsPosted by DuPage County Sheriff's Office on Sunday, May 3, 2020
“We didn’t really know how much society needed to get out,” Mendrick said.
He said the people he observed wore masks or maintained the proper distance from each other.
To prevent social distancing issues, Mendrick said within five minutes of his arrival he told drivers to get in their vehicles, and the lot was emptied within 30 minutes.
Seeing the hundreds of people lining the streets, socially distanced in their own yards, to watch the parade was very positive. “It was a heart-warming thing to see,” Mendrick said.
On the same day of the parade, Gov. J.B. Pritzker reminded Illinois residents to practice social distancing and asked police departments to help enforce the state’s stay-at-home guidelines.
“People need to follow the rules,” Pritzker said. “People will get sick if they don’t follow the rules.”
Villa said she has no problem with smaller displays seen around the community in which squad cars and other emergency equipment pass people’s houses. “This was not that,” she said.
“It’s also concerning (the sheriff) was expecting 250 vehicles…That’s confusing to me,” Villa said.
She said having 400 or 250 vehicles in a parking lot sends a message that the sheriff is OK with large gatherings.
“Yet we’re telling our kids to still stay home. How is it fair?” Villa said.
Mendrick said no taxpayer dollars were used on the parade, and participation was strictly voluntary.
“A lot of what we do is in the feel-good realm,” Mendrick said. “That’s what community policing is.”
Villa said she was surprised the sheriff’s office did not get permission for the parade, even as a courtesy, from either West Chicago or Carol Stream.
West Chicago Mayor Ruben Pineda confirmed his city did not receive an application for a special event permit, and an official with Carol Stream said no permit was issued there either.
Mendrick said the size of the parade did become too unwieldy at times and organizers had to eliminate two neighborhoods from the planned route. Plans are underway to return to the missed neighborhoods and other communities, he said, though on a much smaller scale.