Wheeling police officers are being assigned to "shadow" Westboro Baptist Church members who are expected to picket in the city Saturday.
Lt. Martin Kimball said "several officers" are being assigned to the group of five to seven people, who plan to picket outside three Catholic churches between 4-6 p.m. The group also planned to picket outside Wheeling Jesuit University, but Kimball said the group instead is planning to picket at the Mount de Chantal Road/Perkins intersection on a small wedge of land there. However, at press time, Westboro's Web site still listed WJU as one of its picket sites.
The officers, he noted, will follow the group to each location.
"We're going to keep the peace on both sides," Kimball said Tuesday. "We expect both sides to abide by the law."
Kimball said a peaceful counter protest organized by Wheeling area residents on the same day will also be assigned officers. It is scheduled to take place 4-7 p.m. Saturday at the Wheeling Park Amphitheater.
Kimball said he has spoken with Westboro members and has made sure they understand all the rules about picketing in the city of Wheeling.
"I think people in the Ohio Valley are educated enough that they know they're looking to incite them into action," Kimball said of the pickets. "People here know better."
Kimball said the pickets are not supposed to use a loudspeaker, and they're not supposed to do any "shouting or yelling" at passersby.
Kimball noted the best thing people can do is ignore them.
"It's like when a 2-year-old throws a tantrum. You ignore them and they will stop. ... The same can be said for this group," he said.
Officers assigned to the group will be visible and in the area, but "not standing next to them," he added.
"The city of Wheeling is taking on the burden of providing protection," Kimball said, noting Westboro is not hiring the officers as private guards. "It's necessary to keep the peace. We'd rather be there and prevent problems than respond to some sort of confrontation."
Westboro plans to picket St. Michael Parish at 4 p.m. Saturday; St. Alphonsus at 5 p.m.; and the Cathedral of St. Joseph at 5:40 p.m.