By David Heinzmann and Jeff Coen, Chicago Tribune –
CHICAGO — Even if everything goes according to plan, the first day of the Group of Eight summit will be a very trying Saturday in May for the Chicago Police Department.
At least two major demonstrations are planned for downtown and organizers of both want to send crowds of marchers down Michigan Avenue in the middle of the day. And those are just the ones police know about because demonstration leaders sought city permits.
Police officials have estimated that 2,000 to 10,000 demonstrators may show up in search of a global spotlight during the overlapping G-8 and NATO meetings May 19-21, but some say the crowds could be much larger,
Whatever the numbers, police have to be ready to handle them without missing a beat on their usual priorities.
While the department has remained secretive about its plans, police officials said training for the summits has been far more extensive than for the last such event in town.
In 2002, to prepare for the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue summit, which drew protesters against globalization, the department’s tactical and other specialized officers trained for just eight hours, said Brian Murphy, chief of the Bureau of Organizational Development.
For G-8 and NATO, the same group of specialized officers are going through five days of training designed “specifically for those front and center” officers, Murphy said.
In recent months, the department sent officers to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security training facility in Alabama to be trained as instructors so they could come back to Chicago and teach officers here in a three-day crowd-control program. The department has added two days of training.
The department would not provide numbers, but police sources familiar with the planning said the department has so far sent about 8,400 of its roughly 12,000 officers through some form of crowd-control training.
About 2,400 officers drawn mostly from tactical and gang units have completed the training designed to prepare them for the front lines of crowd control. Those officers are likely to wear the black body armor that police call “turtle suits.”
Six thousand more officers have taken a less intensive program of up to two days to make them ready to be responders working downtown during the summits, dressed in more traditional uniforms, sources said.
With two summits in President Barack Obama’s hometown at the same time, and the expectation that the weekend could be a major rejuvenation point for the Occupy movement, Chicago police understand the stakes are particularly high.
“They know this is a defining moment,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington. “What McCarthy has going for him is his experience in New York.”
Some in the department feel they’re not being given sufficient training, and they fear that if demonstrations turn violent, they’ll be blamed for whatever happens, according to several officers who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak for the department.
Officers “are terrified they’re going to get caught on camera doing something that looks wrong,” said one veteran supervisor.
Some officers scoffed at one piece of the training—a 4-inch-by-4-inch flip booklet of hand signals that could be used in crowd control formations. For example, a leader holding both arms out at his side is telling squads of about six officers to form a line.
But some of the signals appear confusing, one officer said, and unlikely to be useful in the confusion of a violent protest.
While refusing to discuss details of deployment numbers or the expected costs of policing the summits, police officials have promised the department will have sufficient resources to handle any situation that arises, whether downtown at the summit locations or out in the neighborhoods most plagued by gang violence.