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Jugglers, fortune tellers welcome in forest preserves after laws update

Cook County Forest Preserve officers no longer have enforce bans juggling acrobatics but they might be keeping an eye golfers’

Cook County Forest Preserve officers no longer have to enforce bans on juggling and acrobatics, but they might be keeping an eye on golfers’ clothing. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media files

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Updated: July 22, 2011 2:51AM

It is now legal to juggle, do a somersault and hang out — even if you’re a “known” thief, burglar, pickpocket or robber — in Cook County’s forest preserves.

But keep your pants on — and zipped — if you’re golfing or practicing on forest preserve courses and driving ranges, or you’ll face a disorderly conduct ticket and fine of up to $500.

Forest preserve commissioners were in clean-up mode during their Wednesday meeting. They cleared off the books some old — and possibly illegal — ordinances and better defined “misconduct rules,” including what constitutes indecent exposure on the forest preserve links.

“We’re trying to clarify what the offenses are — so the police officer and the person charged is clear about the violation,” said “forest preserve Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who sponsored dozens of changes to the forest preserve “misconduct” code.

He said they also shored up fuzzy language on a variety of fines. In the past, illegal parking could bring a $500 fine. Now it’s $35.

Also wiped from the books was a disorderly charge for “all persons who are known to be thieves, burglars, pickpockets, robbers or confidence men, either by their own confession or otherwise or by having been convicted of larceny, burglary, or other crimes against the laws of the State of Illinois, who are found lounging in or prowling or loitering around any house, barn, building or other structure within any forest preserve, and who are unable to give a reasonable excuse for being so found.”

Dennis White, chief attorney for the county’s forest preserve, says you can’t simply ticket a convicted thief for hanging out in the forest preserve.

“Someone convicted of a felony, for one, we wouldn’t know — and we wouldn’t want to engage in any profiling,” White said.

The goal of these ordinances is “to make sure we’re proactive in prohibiting certain activities that are harmful to the preserves” and those using them, White said.

But some of the ordinances were so old and arcane they were no longer needed. For example, there were bans on “acrobatic feats” (somersaults!) and juggling and fortune-telling — all of which are now legal after forest preserve commissioners overwhelmingly approved the changes.

White said he suspected some of those bans — juggling, acrobatics — might have been tied to traveling carnivals and circuses setting up shop.

“I’ve never seen a citation for it,” White said, referring to recent history.

Suffredin, who like the other 16 forest commissioners serves in a dual role as commissioner for the Cook County Board, said the fortune-telling ban was lifted because “there was no definition of what fortune-telling is.”

“Fortune-tellers are now free to go in to the forest preserve and do whatever it is they do,” he said.

But you may get slapped with a $500 fine if you expose yourself on a forest-preserve golf course or driving range.

“What we’re doing: One, we’re bringing up to speed the definition of the offenses; second, the way it was structured there were fines of $500 — there was no discretion,” Suffredin said.

The county is changing procedures so cases can be handled through administrative hearings, which saves on court costs.

“People won’t have to go to court, as they’ve done in the past. We were trying to upgrade everything” he said.

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