OMAHA — Will Bellevue, Neb., become the new Wichita as the
epicenter of the anti-abortion protest movement? Not if Herb Evers can help it.
A 30-year veteran of the Bellevue Police Dept., Capt. Evers
worried aloud about the future of his hometown should radicalized groups, like
Kansas-based Operation Rescue West, pull up stakes following the assassination
of George Tiller by one of its own adherents and head north from Wichita. In
promotional pitches, the group that boasts of stopping "abortion in
obedience to biblical mandates" now promises to descend on this southern
Omaha suburb where Tiller’s friend and colleague Dr. Leroy Carhart runs the
Abortion and Contraception Clinic of Nebraska.
"It will affect the quality of life of the city of
Bellevue," said Evers. "It just will. We know that. And we’re trying
to prevent that by every means possible."
Those means came from two weeks of hurried planning and a
crash course in federal law for Evers who coordinated with 10 local, state and
federal law enforcement agencies, including the South Metro SWAT Team, U.S.
Attorneys office, U.S. Marshals and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, in response
to Operation Rescue’s sudden plans for a street protest at Carhart’s clinic on
After hearing about the heavy media push by a tightly wound
network of national anti-choice activist groups and two local groups, Rescue
the Heartland and Nebraskans United for Life, to turn out supporters, Evers
said he quickly contacted Kansas authorities for help.
Bellevue prepares for
"So when Operation Rescue announces that they’re coming
to Bellevue we’re going, ugh, the history is that it’s 500 to 1,000 people.
That’s what we were told by Wichita," Evers tells me in the incident
command center, an old Winnebago-style recreational vehicle parked behind a
city service garage a few blocks from the clinic.
A concern that throngs of protesters and clinic defenders
would scuffle, or that anti-choice activists would mimic armed town hall
agitators was at the forefront of Evers’ mind. After a whirlwind trip to
Wichita to share intelligence and convene a law enforcement brain trust on
counter-protest strategies, he and his commanders spent 14 hour days over the
next two weeks creating a detailed tactical plan for various law enforcement
units should there be trouble.
High on the list of priorities? Prepping officers with a
primer on First Amendment rights, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances
(FACE) Act and a cheat sheet of crimes local prosecutors could charge
Hearing the lessons learned by Wichita police after years of
relentless and sometimes violent protests at
Tiller’s clinic, Evers set out to contact organizations on both
sides of the debate to appeal for a peaceful protest. Nebraska NOW president
Erin Sullivan said she was extremely pleased by the police department’s
responsiveness and willingness to negotiate a good outcome.
"If I had to rate it on a 1-10 scale, I’d really have
to say it was like a nine," said Sullivan who led the clinic defense
efforts and also got advice from experienced Kansas activists. "We were
going to be protected which was really important."
To the city’s relief, the protesters’ efforts to amass the
expected 500 activists fizzled when just 65 people showed up over two days at
the Mission Avenue clinic to "minister" to patients by yelling
slogans, waving ultrasound images and hoisting gruesome pickets. Meanwhile, 200
clinic defenders from 16 states chanted, "Welcome. Welcome. This clinic
stays open!" while shielding patients’ faces with pro-choice placards to
prevent them from being taped by the protesters’ video cameras.
With little fanfare, the Saturday protest suddenly disbursed
just after Noon. The dueling "Truth Trucks" parked on the barricaded
street outside the clinic packed up and moved on. Anti-choice activists quickly
cleared out save for a fervent bunch of ten locals who displayed signs and
cajoled drivers to honk their horns in support until mid-afternoon. On the
adjoining street corner more than two-dozen pro-choice activists held their
All the while, the city’s ten patrol officers on the scene
pay the price for carpet bagging activists
Even despite the paltry turn out, Operation Rescue’s call to
arms will set the Bellevue Police Dept. back at least $10,000 for regular wages
for two officers plus overtime pay for the eight more assigned to clinic duty,
according to Evers’ back of napkin estimate.
For Bellevue residents the timing couldn’t be worse.
The unanticipated police costs come two days after Mayor
Gary Mixan announced he would need to trim $5
million, or roughly 10 percent, from the city’s annual budget.
Expenses for the cooperating local law enforcement agencies from Omaha,
Papillion, La Vista, Douglas and Sarpy Counties, the Nebraska state patrol and
Council Bluffs, Iowa were not immediately available.
Down at the impromptu command center on the heavily guarded
border of Offutt Air Force Base, SWAT team members and uniformed officers
lounged and watched screaming jets perform aerobatics at the weekend air show
from the back of pickup trucks and makeshift encampments under a stand of
As he knocks on the RV’s Formica kitchen table for good
luck, Evers tells me there were no arrests on either side. Yet, his worries are
from over. Should Operation Rescue target Bellevue by launching regular
protests on the scale of those in Wichita he estimates the city would easily
need an additional 100 cops to maintain law and order at the clinic.
Carhart, the man at the center of the protesters’ obsessive
zealotry, is quite glum about the financial effects on a community where he has
practiced medicine for the last 21 years and whose economy has been rocked by
the nationwide recession.
A veteran of the belligerent Tiller clinic protests, Carhart
estimates that the combined efforts of state, local and federal authorities
could easily approach $1 million or more in taxpayer dollars.