Nearly four months after Chicago Police Department leaders pulled hundreds of cops from neighborhood patrol to form a rapid response unit to handle large crowds and protests, the special team faced its first test Saturday night in the Loop.
Several hundred young adults and teens flooded the area near Millennium Park, running in the streets and sometimes breaking out in fights for about three hours.
The department’s initial strategy Saturday seemed rudimentary at best: Turn off the Christmas tree and tell the stores to close early.
Large crowd of teens in downtown Chicago, police also on hand.— Eric Cox (@EricCoxTV) December 6, 2020
Reports of stores closing early.
No clashes so far, but in the past couple of years, dozens of black teens have been arrested in the Loop after hundreds showed up. pic.twitter.com/aYh6pku3Q1
At one point, a police supervisor radioed that units should advise any open businesses to close for the night and let any current customers out one-at-at-time to keep the crowd from flooding in. Police brass tried to get the Chicago Park District to turn off the city’s Christmas tree in Millennium Park. But that turned out to be more of a bureaucratic challenge than the city was prepared to handle.
Officially, the police department released a statement saying, “groups of sometimes raucous young people congregating in and around the Loop Saturday night were peacefully dispersed by CPD and left the area by 10:30 P.M.”
No arrests were made, the department said.
Contrary to reports on some national social media accounts, there were no reports of stores being burglarized by the crowd. Some retailers did report being hit by groups of shoplifters — the Walgreens at 30 North Michigan Avenue near Millennium Park reported that problem — and the crowd did overwhelm a few other stores and fast food restaurants early on.
Cops began to notice groups of young people gathering near the Christmas tree around 7:15 p.m. One officer reported seeing a flyer that promoted a party in the park, and early-arriving celebrants reportedly told police they expected hundreds of people to show up.
That turned out to be a good estimate.
Yet, the police department apparently received no early warning from its social media intelligence unit that is supposed to provide a “heads up” about such events. Nor did cops receive any warnings about large groups heading into the downtown area via CTA trains, according to a source. That’s supposed to be another part of CPD’s early warning system.
Fights broke out sporadically, cops reported. Millennium Park security “closed” the park at 8 o’clock — right around the time police closed a stretch of nearby Michigan Avenue after the crowd overtook traffic lanes.
There were occasional pepper-sprayings. A few officers reported having objects thrown in their direction.
More than an hour later, police began ordering the group to disperse.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to go home. You can’t stay here,” an officer announced on his car’s loudspeaker around 9:15 p.m. “You got here somehow…Have a good night, everybody!”
By 10 p.m., police had successfully corraled and cajoled most of the group onto CTA trains that left the area.