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In Wake Of Downtown Shootings, Chicago Loop Alliance Considers Doubling Street Ambassador Program

The Chicago Loop Alliance uses ambassadors and private security to keep the area safe — but more police officers are also needed, a leader said.

Jerry Zollicoffer, operations manager for the Streetplus team at the Chicago Loop Alliance, stands watch at the Nordstrom Rack along State Street in the Loop.
Melody Mercado
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THE LOOP — Jerry Zollicoffer leads a team of 16 street ambassadors tasked with keeping The Loop’s central business district clean and safe.

Zollicoffer’s team patrols business corridors along State Street day and night, picking up trash, helping tourists find their way and deescalating potentially violent situations. They’re hard to miss in their bright yellow jackets, which say “Chicago Loop Alliance Ambassador” on the back.

“Once you see the yellow jackets, you never forget them,” Zollicoffer said.

The Chicago Loop Alliance, which represents hundreds of Loop businesses and cultural institutions, has doubled the size of its street ambassador team in recent months amid high-profile crimes in the normally safe, bustling area. The group’s leaders said they plan to expand the ambassador team and take on more security — and they want more police officers in the area.

Among the violence: On Tuesday, a 19-year-old in a car on Michigan Avenue near The Bean was shot and wounded. On May 1, a stagehand for the Nederlander Theatre was shot in The Loop. The man, who police said was not the intended target, was hospitalized, and the theater’s performance of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” was canceled. The same weekend, a teen was shot to death inside a Streeterville hotel, and a woman was killed outside 10 Bowling Lounge in River North. On May 3, four people were shot near Wells Street and Ida B. Wells Drive.

Homicides are up in the 1st and 18th Police Districts — which cover the Downtown and Near North side — with six so far in 2022 compared to three by this point of 2018, according to police data. Assaults are also slightly up from pre-pandemic times — 479 so far this year versus 465 by this point of 2018 — while robberies are down, with 248 this year compared to 317 in 2018.

The shooting near the Nederlander prompted Mayor Lori Lightfoot to call on city officials to “step up our efforts Downtown.”

Credit: Melody Mercado
Nakena Calhoun and Candace Mason clean up near the State Street Corridor. Both are members of the Chicago Loop Alliance Street Ambassadors.

Police Supt. David Brown, speaking at a May 3 news conference, said the city has “seen some displacement issues,” with “increases [in crime] in areas that we normally don’t have those increases.” He said more patrols would be added to the area, though Downtown wouldn’t get preferential treatment.

“We are not going to be a part of treating one neighborhood differently than another based on whatever reasons,” Brown said. “All of these neighborhoods are important to us as the Police Department. We are adding resources not only to the Downtown … but the CTA needs more resources and so does areas on the South Side and areas on the West Side.”

Spokespeople for the Police Department declined to say what resources have been added to Downtown neighborhoods.

Crime has risen throughout the city during the pandemic, leading to residents in more affluent neighborhoods paying for private security in some communities.

The Chicago Loop Alliance has had a private security patrol for the area since 2018, and its ambassador program has been around since 2014.

The street ambassadors patrol State Street and several east-west streets until midnight daily, greeting people and offering help to tourists while providing assistance and resources to people experiencing homelessness, Zollicoffer said. The ambassadors are unarmed, but they have been professionally trained on how to de-escalate situations.

The Loop’s overnight HLSA Security monitors the same business corridors and, if needed, are able to detain people. The Loop Alliance previously used armed security, but it moved to having the workers be unarmed in 2020 after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd.

The security measures cost the Chicago Loop Alliance $1.2 million annually, but President and CEO Michael Edwards said he’s preparing to double the program over the next three years.

Credit: Melody Mercado
Jerry Zollicoffer patrols an area of State Street in the Loop. Zollicoffer is the operations manager for the street ambassador program at the Chicago Loop Alliance. The program currently staffs 16 people.

The program helps address low-level crime, but there aren’t enough police in The Loop to completely deter issues, Edwards said.

“We could use more bike patrols in and around State Street, and we would just like to see more cops stationed at corners. That’s what we need,” Edwards said. “We can’t really understand why we don’t have them. We’re such an important economic engine for the city.”

Zollicoffer, eyeing a police bike patrol Downtown on May 6, said it was a welcome sight — and that it was the first such patrol he’d seen in a while. Keeping an open line of communication with police is important, and it’s easier when they are physically present, he said.

Edwards said the Chicago Loop Alliance is gearing up for this summer, when the group expects to see more people Downtown, and he hopes police will be more present in the area.

“We simply need more proactive plans in place,” Edwards said. “We need more proactive policing.”

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