CHICAGO – SUMMIT SECURITY
BY DON BABWIN
CHICAGO (AP) _ A day after President Barack Obama announced that his hometown would host simultaneous NATO and G-8 summits next spring, few details were available about who would attend and how many protesters might follow. But former U.S. Secret Service Agent Joseph LaSorsa said there is one thing that’s certain. “You can safely say that during that time Chicago is going to be the safest city on the planet,” said LaSorsa, a security expert with his own company in Florida.
Talk to LaSorsa and others, and the consensus is that by the time Obama and new Mayor Rahm Emanuel welcome world leaders to their hometown, countless security measures big and small will already have been put in place in a city already known for one of the most extensive camera surveillance systems in the country.
From tracking the movements of terrorists to crawling down manholes to ensure explosives aren’t hidden to removing newspaper racks _ or anything else that could be thrown, set fire to or used to hide a bomb _ officials will have spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours planning for any threat they can imagine.
Nothing is too big in an effort that will involve world leaders, hundreds of entourage members and dozens of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. And nothing is too small, as Chicago Police showed before the Democratic National Convention in 1996 when a commander sent crews to smear grease on statues in Grant Park to make sure that protesters could not climb them, as they did during the violence-marred 1968 Democratic National Convention.
The stakes could not be higher for the nation’s third largest city which will become the first American city other than Washington, D.C. to host the NATO Summit.
“There’s always some terrorist group that would love to get a bomb in there or assassinate a national leader,” said John Thompson, a security expert in Canada.
It’s almost certain that the summits will be a magnet for protesters, something Seattle learned in 1999 when 50,000 protesters shut down meetings of the World Trade Organization as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets during rioting that resulted in 600 arrests and $3 million in property damage.
Still, the summits are a coup for new Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who in his effort to pull the city out of desperate financial straits, pushed for hosting the meetings with Vice President Joe Biden when Biden attended his inauguration in May.
“From a city perspective, this will be an opportunity to showcase what is great about the greatest city in the greatest country,” said Emanuel, who added that the summits offer what he called an “unprecedented” chance for economic investment and job creation for the city.
To pull it off, though, millions of dollars will have to be spent. That was Georgia’s experience when it hosted the G-8 Summit in several locations in 2004.
“There were more public safety resources committed to it than have been seen in anything for us going back to the Civil War,” said Sgt. David Gay of the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department.
Crews were dispatched to ring key buildings with fences, put up concrete barriers or build checkpoints. Investigators were dispatched to check out the smallest tip or keep tabs on protesters, like the detectives who showed up at a real estate office to look at the contract a protest group had signed to rent a conference hall. And there were the training sessions in which officers were drilled on spotting suspicious things like water bottles that contained ice _ which, if hurled at a police officer could cause serious injury.
Gay said they were also trained to be to look closely to see which protesters walked stiffly or wore clothes too bulky for the hot weather, possible signals that they had put cardboard under their clothes to serve as body armor for non-body piercing bullets riot police use. At the same time, police in riot gear trained in parks in preparation for the protesters that have been a part of these meetings _ particularly after what happened in Seattle in 1999. By the time the summit was held on Georgia’s coast, there were thousands of police officers and National Guard troops patrolling roadways and bridges, or manning gunboats.
Gay said there were so many law enforcement officials involved, that what few protesters did show up were almost outnumbered by undercover officers. “When they did march, (police officers) were able to influence where they went.”
They also foiled the efforts of not-so-smart crooks who tried to commit crimes while the summit was being held. “We had some poor soul trying to commit a robbery one night and there must have been 12-15 police cars there,” he said chuckling.
Whether officers drill in Chicago remains to be seen, but the department has a head start when it comes to security, starting with a still growing camera surveillance system that former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has called the most extensive and integrated network of its kind in the nation. Further, events like election night in 2008 in Grant Park when thousands of people poured into Grant Park to see the newly-elected president and this year’s visit to the city by the president of China have become almost routine.
“These went off without a hitch,” said former Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis in an e-mail to The Associated Press.