UPDATE 5:55PM – Virtually nothing new was announced at today’s press conference. Police made a broad statement that about 200 “additional” police officers would patrol the parade, Pride Fest, the lakefront, thoroughfares, and other “events” across the city. The department declined to say how many of those “hundreds” of officers would actually be at the parade.
Plans by the parade organizer to add 70 more private security officers, widely reported as being a “boost” following last weekend’s shootings in Orlando, were actually announced several months ago.
Our original report from before the 12:30PM news conference follows.
Officials Thursday will hold a press conference to announce plans for the 2016 Chicago Pride Parade. Exactly what they will announce has not been revealed in advance, but CWB Chicago has learned the following:
• Private security arrangements and crowd control will be spearheaded by Chicago Special Events Management, the private company that organizes most of Chicago’s major street festivals, including Pride Fest and Northalsted Market Days.
• While parade organizer Richard Pfeiffer has repeatedly claimed that his organization is “providing a security team of 160 off-duty police officers,” we could not find anyone to confirm that statement. In fact, through Ald. Tom Tunney’s office, Special Events Management stated that their security team is comprised of “certified security personnel.”
“[It’s] the same group that does the neighborhood security for the Chicago Cubs. Most are permitted for carrying firearms, a few are certified with [state security guard licenses] but non carrying firearms. All are certified security personnel.”
Neither Pfeiffer nor Special Events Management CEO Hank Zemola responded to our inquiries about the “off-duty police officers” claim.
Interestingly, Zemola is the man who told WBEZ in 2013 that the publicly-touted Pride Parade crowd estimates of “1 million people” are “marketing numbers…crazy numbers… It would be impossible to have those many people lined up and down the streets.”
• Public Safety officials that we spoke with do not have greater public safety concerns in the wake of last weekend’s mass shooting in Orlando. “Same concerns as always,” one top city worker told us.
Those concerns are significant and real. In fact, CWBChicago is today publishing for the first time a section of handwritten notes that a Chicago Fire Department executive took during a City Hall planning session for last year’s parade.
“Possible move of parade downtown,” the exec wrote in 2015. “Public safety issue.”
But first responders’ worries about crowding, access and egress have taken a back seat to political power.
Concern about the route winding through one of Chicago’s densest areas grew after last year’s parade was disrupted by a confused man who managed to drive his vehicle onto the parade route—not once, but twice. “I think everyone’s initial thought was that it was intentional.” The man was not charged.
• Parade organizers have announced that the 2016 parade will have 160 units, down from the 222 units in last year’s march. According to city records and the parade’s official web site, the Chicago Pride Parade has exceeded its permitted unit count every year since 2011. The city claimed to not have permits from earlier years.
The last time that parade organizers slashed the number of units was for the 2012 parade. That came on the heels of dangerous overcrowding along the parade route that sent spectators climbing over fences and barricades to avoid being crushed.
• U.S. Senator Mark Kirk on Wednesday asked the FBI to “offer the maximum security possible [for the Chicago Pride Parade] so that, in the wake of the Orlando massacre, we can have the safest Pride Parade ever.”
A Chicago Police Department spokesperson responded that, “There is no specific threat or intelligence against [any] of the Pride events that are scheduled for Chicago over the next several weekends.”