Here’s how one veteran police officer—a longtime watch commander—is preparing for potential NATO and G8 protesters:
“I have no idea when I’m going to get any specific training, so I’ve gone ahead and ordered some books from Amazon on riots. This isn’t good.”
He claims he has no choice. Three months ahead of the event, the city appears to have minimal plans to deal with the swarms of protesters expected to hit our streets.
While federal officials will handle security for the summit meetings themselves, “the street-level protection is the responsibility of the local police—lucky us,” says the officer, who, like others we spoke with, asked not to be named because he’s not allowed to speak to the press.
The activist group Adbusters has called for 50,000 people to hit the Chicago streets, while the online hacker group Anonymous recently said it hopes to demonstrate in Chicago for the entire month of May.
Police say they’ve been told they’ll get between one and three days of riot and crowd-control training. A second veteran watch commander tells us it’s “absolutely not” enough preparation. “I just don’t think you’re going to be able to teach or instill that kind of discipline in one or three days,” he says. “I went for my one-day training and it was a month ago. I can tell you right now that I don’t remember it all.”
Several rank-and-file police tell us they and their colleagues are anxious about dealing with the protesters. They don’t want to look like the head smashers who soiled the city’s image back in 1968. And they all realize that with the summits being held in President Obama’s hometown—and with his former chief of staff presiding over the festivities—his election-year reputation may be at stake.
“While I truly believe the Chicago Police Department has changed since 1968, plenty of other people do not,” says the first officer. There’s also the presence of the Occupy movement. “It’s a far greater force than some people would like to think. Then you have the anarchists who like to go to the NATO and G8 summits. Then it’s Chicago, and it’s the home of the president, and it’s an election year.”
Some police are also concerned about being called to assist with demonstrations or melees without the proper equipment. One officer told us he’s prepared to buy his own tear gas. The helmets that crowd-control cops use in Chicago are actually designed for motorcycle safety, not riot intervention, so the second watch commander we spoke with is considering buying another helmet with his own money. He says he’s also going to conduct his own training exercises with the officers under his command. “We will start implementing our own training on a weekly basis, so we can practice formations so we can be ready.”
City officials have mostly been mum about their preparations, except to stress in background briefings that they’ll be ready. “Every scenario is being examined and every contingency will be put in place,” one public safety official told reporters last month, on the condition that her name not be used. The official noted that police regularly handle large crowds for the Taste of Chicago and the Air and Water Show, and dismissed the possibility that things could get out of hand, as when Seattle hosted meetings of the World Trade Organization in 1999.
“Seattle is not Chicago,” the official said. “Seattle was not prepared like Chicago is prepared.”