NATO Summit: With Focus Downtown, Will the City's Neighborhoods Be Secure?

NATO security Photo by Bartosz Brzezinski
Chicago Police set up a perimeter around a Bank of America 
branch during an Occupy May Day protest. (Photo by Bartosz Brzezinski)


By AnnCatherine Brady
The Red Line Project

: Friday, May 4, 2012

From Blackhawk helicopters hovering over the downtown sky to the impending arrival of the Illinois National Guard, the upcoming NATO summit has many Chicagoans concerned about security.

The summit, which will take place on May 20- 21 at McCormick Place, is expected to draw a large number of diplomats, at least 2,000 foreign media reporters and also thousands of protesters.

With so many visitors expected, the Chicago Police Department, the Secret Service, Illinois National Guard and other supplementary security forces have a lot to manage.

That focus on downtown Chicago’s Red Zone area could be a drain on security resources for Chicago’s neighborhoods leading up to and during the summit. Protests are expected to occur regularly from early May through the end of the summits.

Second Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti shared some of his concerns with the city hosting the summit. 

“Whether we have adequate security for our residents, whether we deal with those who come to protest or challenge the policies of the various countries... we need to make sure they’re not bent on destruction,” said Fioretti, who has been critical of Mayor Emanuel and the city hosting the summit.

“It’s not necessarily how many police we have down here, but we have to protect our people in the neighborhoods. At the same time... we had an unprecedented amount of shootings going on.”

From April 13 to 15, there were a total of 25 shootings in the city, leaving eight dead and others injured. This is a dramatic increase in gun violence for the city compared to last year, according to Chicago Police Department crime statistics.

According to Fioretti, security for the summit must therefore be a balancing act between protecting the city’s neighborhoods and providing a secure environment which will allow people to protest and exercise their first amendment right to free speech 

With the G8 summit moved to Camp David, the overall length of the summit has been shorted to just a two-day period. Fioretti said that the hopes this shorter timeframe will allow the city to overcome any concerns.

But he also said that he has told people they may want to avoid the downtown area for “convenience’s sake.”

Some employees from businesses located in and around the Loop have said that they do not think that their businesses will necessarily suffer, however they had doubts that other neighborhoods will be adequately covered by police.

“Other business not in the Loop, I kind of feel sorry for them because if any thing happens there’s not going to be a quick response because all the police are going to be down here monitoring the summit,” said Martez Jackson, the manager of Pauly’s Pizzeria at 719 S. State Street.

Huber Trenado, an employee at The L Cafe at 424 S. Wabash Ave., echoed Jackson’s sentiments.

“Since there’s going to be so much police downtown, is there going to be any other police like in any other neighborhoods in Chicago?” said Trenado.

Former Chicago Police Commander Neill Sullivan, who has helped plan major events in the city such as the 1996 Democratic National Convention, has a different outlook than the business owners. 

“In the past we’ve insured that the business community is served as well as the neighborhood communities,” he said.

Sullivan said that the police department is taking the necessary steps to make sure the city will be secure during the summit.

Some of these steps include police officers taking longer shifts, canceling days off and bringing in help.

“The city will be supplemented by federal, state, county and suburban forces. Hopefully they’ll be ample coverage,” Sullivan said. “You always have to prepare. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

In the post 9/11 climate, additional precautions will also be taken downtown. Police have recently taken away BigBelly solar powered trash cans and put wire ones in their place. Sullivan also said that newspaper boxes, or any place where a bomb could be hidden will also be changed for security reasons.

Video: Rick Mattoon of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago talks about extra security measures it is taking during NATO (Video by Ryann Rumbaugh)

Long-time Chicago resident Steven Fisher, the owner of an Uncle Sammy’s on 1237 W. Fullerton Pkwy in Lincoln Park, said he’s confident that the city has learned from past events.

“I’ve been in the city for about 25 years,” he said. “I’ve been here since my undergraduate days when the Bulls were on a successful run... we had serious issues with looting and the downtown area being a kind of desolate place at night. There wasn’t a lot of police presence.

“With the experiences of the past and with the current administration in office, here, I think Chicago has a good chance to control the circumstances of this.”

Fisher also said that he thinks the media hype surrounding the summit is exaggerated. 

“I think with so much of the priming of the pump, if you will, so much of this concern, it will be a lot of to do for nothing,” he said. 

Uncle Sammy's

Local businesses like Lincoln Park's Uncle Sammy's differ
on opinions about neighborhood security during
the upcoming NATO Summit. (Photo by AnnCatherine Brady)

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