“Dry run” looting response planned after city lines Mag Mile with barricades

City workers install barricades along Rush Street on August 26, 2020, to help police “control geographies” in the event of future looting. | @ChicagoBeckyP on Twitter

City departments on Thursday will conduct test runs of a new tactic that police and political leaders hope will contain any future looting or riot attempts in the downtown area. But officials are playing down online rumors of large protests heading to the neighborhood this weekend.

And, a source said similar blockade arrangements may roll out along retail corridors in Wicker Park and other neighborhoods.

Police, Streets and Sanitation, and Water Department assets will all participate in the dry-run between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. that will test the city’s ability to quickly lock down key intersections should trouble break out.

On Wednesday, city workers installed concrete barricades to narrow the mouths of streets along the Magnificent Mile and in nearby areas. By tightening the roadway, city officials can quickly close roads by parking salt trucks and other large vehicles in the narrowed space. Large, mobile planters may also be used to close some intersections. At least, that’s the idea.

But, during a conference call Wednesday night with downtown leaders, city officials admitted that the plan relies on a coordinated response by city departments that have limited staffing at night and on weekends.

During the call, a top CPD leader said Thursday’s test run “will make sure all city agencies are communicating across silos” to “make sure we can get assets in place, regardless of the level of incident that comes up.”

“We’ll be timing [the closures] so it can get faster and faster,” the police executive said.

Police “are talking about vehicle disablement” tactics that would allow cops to stop vehicles associated with looting and other widespread crime in their tracks. But the discussions for deploying tools like tire-piercing spike strips are “going through legal,” the CPD leader said.

City representatives also tried to ease some downtown residents’ concerns about potential protests in the area this weekend that have popped up on social media. The organizers have not proven to be highly successful with their other efforts, one official said, adding that the city wasn’t getting geared up for an “event that has 22 people” interacting online.

As of Wednesday night, the city had no plans to lift the river bridges or alter CTA service downtown, according to a city official on the call.

CPD Deputy Chief Brendan Deenihan told conference call participants that the department is sharing intelligence with law enforcement agencies across the country, including in Wisconsin, Portland, and New York City.

“It is unbelievable, the amount of information that is going back and forth,” Deenihan said.

CPD “has indicated there is no significant, actionable intelligence that this will be a large gathering, according to open-source social media,” Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) told his constituents in an email after the conference call.

Reilly suggested the concrete barricades that were put in place Wednesday may be the first in a series of new “ways to shut down geographies.” 

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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