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City Putting More Cops On Streets, Protecting Businesses Over Concerns About Election Day Unrest

The city is implementing a 10-day "safety plan"as people are worried about unrest — and coronavirus.

Chicago Police arrive at The Love March with GoodKids Mad City in the Austin neighborhood on Saturday, July 25, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The city is putting more police officers on the streets and protecting business corridors in neighborhoods ahead of — and after — Election Day.

Friday marks the beginning of a 10-day “safety plan” for Chicago to ensure the election goes smoothly, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Police Supt. David Brown and a slew of other officials announced.

That means that through Nov. 8, there will be more officers on patrol, the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications will “monitor any activity and crowds” and the city will send out garbage trucks and other large vehicles to protect business-heavy strips in the neighborhoods, according to the Mayor’s Office.

Officials said they hope the measures can make people feel safer as they cast a ballot and await results during what is expected to be a tense week.

The city’s efforts are focused on two issues, Lightfoot said: election integrity and public safety.

“Nov. 3 is coming up fast. And no matter what happens, it will be a big day for all of us,” Lightfoot said.

Critics expressed concern on social media over the plan, which largely mirrors what the city did over the summer, when there were large protests over police violence and when businesses were looted and vandalized. Protesters and officers routinely — and, at times, violently — clashed.

Lightfoot did not directly say officers wouldn’t interfere in potential protests, but she said the Police Department will support people who are expressing their First Amendment rights — though she repeatedly said Chicagoans should be “peaceful.”

“I want to stress that while CPD is focused on crime prevention, our officers will continue to ensure residents expressing First Amendment rights are protected and given the support they need to stay safe,” Lightfoot said.

“… Chicago: We have to be smart, safe and peaceful. No matter the outcomes of next Tuesday’s elections, we all know that emotions will be high because they already are. I urged you to channel those emotions into peaceful and productive expressions.”

Though Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is expected to win Chicago and Illinois, the national contest is closer. People have expressed concerns about unrest.

Chicago saw days of protests, marches and rallies after President Donald Trump was elected in 2016. They were peaceful and saw few incidents.

But this election has proved particularly contentious, fueling concerns about protests and violence, especially since results will be slower to come in than usual due to the uptick in mail-in voting.

Lightfoot said police will be out in their uniforms, and people will “see their vehicles, flashing lights.” The city’s large vehicles will be out in residential neighborhoods and Downtown, blocking commercial strips and businesses to thwart any attempts to loot.

“We want to be visible, but we also want to be calm and de-escalate,” Lightfoot said.

Brown said the Police Department has run exercises to prepare for various scenarios — be at bad weather or coronavirus outbreaks — and has received no “intelligence” of any potential incidents that could arise during the week.

“People in general have very high anxiety as it relates to the upcoming election,” Brown said.

The superintendent said officers will work to “de-escalate” and calm tensions “so that everyone is comfortable exercising their right to vote.”

But, Brown added, officers will also be there to “prevent lawlessness” and will “take action against anyone intent on spreading chaos.” They won’t tolerate looting “or any other criminal behavior,” he said.

Besides ensuring the city’s streets and businesses are safe, officials are working to reassure people they can vote without fears of coronavirus.

Voters and poll workers are required to wear masks at polling places, voting stations are being spaced out for social distancing and there are plexiglass barriers between the stations. Hand sanitizer is available.

Those rules have been in place during early voting, which continues through Monday, and they’ll apply Tuesday.

“We’re following all CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health COVID-19 guidelines at every polling place,” said Marisel Hernandez, chair of the Chicago Board of Elections. “We have worked to ensure that all polling places are spacious enough to provide a safe voting environment for our voters and poll workers.”

More than 643,800 ballots have been cast so far in Chicago through mail-in voting and early voting.

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