LOW BALLING: Pride, Market Days Organizers Back Away From Huge Crowd Estimates

Part of the 35,000 or, perhaps, 150,000 people who attended Northalsted Market Days in 2008. (Image:Time Out Chicago)

“Are there enough cops for Pride, Market Days?” That’s the question being asked by Chicago’s National Public Radio affiliate, WBEZ. 

The answer, of course, is “No.” Doubters needn’t look any further than the 19th district commander’s decision to call in support units from six neighboring districts to tamp down street attacks and unruly mobs after Sunday’s Gay Pride Parade.

Once again, the district commander iterates his misguided strategy for reducing robberies and attacks in Wrigleyville and Boystown:

When interviewed in February, Cmdr. Elias Voulgaris said the focus of the Entertainment [Detail] was on violent crimes, he said, particularly muggings. He added that violent crime could be cut by clamping down on public drinking and urination.

“It all comes down to quality of life issues. [People] have to respect the residents and cut down on public drinking, urination and damage to property,” he said.

Rubbish. The idea that muggings will be reduced by enforcing public urination laws is ridiculous on its face. Is anybody buying what this man is selling?

The heart of the article is particularly interesting. Reporters found that the organizers of August’s annual Market Days street festival publicly claim that 100,000 to 150,000 people attend the 2-day event. But that’s not the number of attendees that they tell the city to prepare for on their Special Event Application:

The crowd estimate for the 2013 Market Days was listed as 35,000, which was also the estimate for the previous year.

So which number is right?

[Special Events Management CEO Hank] Zemola said the events require proof of insurance before they’re approved. Insurance companies use them to determine policy prices. To ensure those estimates are correct, the insurers will send auditors to count the crowd.

“[The higher crowd size estimates are] marketing numbers,” Zemola said.

At times, special event organizers have to dole out additional funds to the city if more police are required to monitor an event. Zemola strongly denied that planners intentionally underestimate numbers in order to avoid higher security costs.

“There’s no police cost by numbers,” he said. “There’s no reason to low-ball and there’s certainly no reason to high-ball.”

Sure there is.

So, how does the Northalsted Business Alliance arrive at “marketing numbers” of 100,000 to 150,000 attendees? According to Alliance spokesperson Jennifer Gordon:

“[The estimate] includes people who shop, dine and visit service providers on the street outside of regular festival hours and those that visit the area businesses outside the footprint of the festival,” she said. “Sponsors value the benefit of being recognized beyond the borders of the festival by attracting the eyes of those visiting the neighborhood.”

Mmm-hmm. But the robberies and attacks that happen just outside of the festival gates are always “unrelated.” Funny that.

It’s time for the people who run these major events to take responsibility for neighborhood safety. And it’s time for the police department executives to stop fondling themselves by chasing “quality of life” issues when the real problem is violent crime on our streets.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com