Former Tinley Park Mental Health Center favored spot for police, military training
BY MIKE NOLAN email@example.com July 10, 2013 9:16PM
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's office said Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011, that he plans to close the Tinley Park Mental Health Center by July. | File photo
Updated: August 12, 2013 11:35AM
In the eyes of law enforcement and, it seems, the military, the vacant Tinley Park Mental Health Center has become “Anywhere U.S.A.”
Buildings once used to care for the mentally ill are now the frequent site of hostage rescue drills and other training.
The 280-acre property presents a ready-made replica of an urban landscape, suited for the good guys to hone their skills ferreting out faux bad guys.
“That thing is used almost every day by law enforcement” for drills, Pat Carr, Tinley Park’s director of emergency management and 911 communications, said.
“It’s become a training grounds for them,” he said Wednesday.
Chicago Police and Illinois State Police have been out there, and in April the Department of Defense conducted what was termed a “regional urban training” event on the grounds.
Later this month, the U.S. Navy will hold a series of training exercises that, like the DOD session, will involve helicopters swooping overhead during nighttime hours.
In April, Carr and other village officials braced for potential crowds gathering to watch the evening exercise, and calls flooding into the police department from panicked residents.
The village put out automated calls to thousands of residents near the center, alerting them to the fact helicopters would be buzzing around overhead.
Low-flying helicopters, including Black Hawks, prompted about 60 calls to police that night, mainly from residents curious about what was going on.
Carr said he doesn’t believe the village has to go overboard this time around to warn residents in advance, but may do a similar automated call to homes within a mile radius of the center prior to the nighttime exercises.
“It’s become so routine out there, and with (law enforcement) helicopters being used,” he said.
The Navy will conduct training from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and Wednesday of next week, then from 6 to 11 p.m. on July 23 and 24. While helicopters won’t be used for the daytime exercises, they will be brought in for the evening drills. Carr said he’s uncertain what type of aircraft will be used.
Carr said the grounds are favored by police and military because of their size and that, in the buildings, personnel can “practice building breaching and replicate going in and clearing a building, rescuing hostages.”
“It’s become ‘Somewhere U.S.A.,’ ” he said.
As with previous exercises, the Navy is likely to use small explosives — such as concussion, or “flash-bang” devices — Carr said. The noise from them has become commonplace at the former health center, he said.
“We drive by there every day and hear flash-bangs out there all the time,” he said.
The property is state-owned, and military and law enforcement exercises are arranged through the state, although the village is sometimes given a courtesy notification, such as with the DOD drills and upcoming Navy exercises.
“We don’t even know who’s out there half the time,” Carr said.