Chicago, Federal Agencies Ramp Up Security Training Ahead of August’s Democratic National Convention

CPD chief of counter-terrorism Duane DeVries speaks at an April 4, 2024, news conference on DNC security. (WTTW News)CPD chief of counter-terrorism Duane DeVries speaks at an April 4, 2024, news conference on DNC security. (WTTW News)

Severe weather. Out-of-control protests. An act of terror.

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Dozens of federal and local emergency management and law enforcement leaders met Thursday to play out hypothetical scenarios that could arise when Chicago hosts the Democratic National Convention from Aug. 19-22.

U.S. Secret Service special agent in charge Derek Mayer said he couldn’t share exactly what the Federal Emergency Management Agency-hosted “tabletop exercise” would entail or which potential situations would be played out. He did say it’s all part of an ongoing effort to create a security plan for the DNC.

“Our goal is to create a security plan for this summer’s DNC that will minimize disruptions to Chicagoans, their lives, while ensuring a secure environment for those attending the convention,” Mayer said. “Chicago is a world-class city that regularly puts on world-class events, whether it’s Lollapalooza, NASCAR or the annual Chicago marathon. Chicago has a proven track record of success.”

The Secret Service’s Chicago field office is also devising the security plan for the Republican National Convention, scheduled for July 15-18 in Milwaukee.

Mayer said Chicago “carries with it some unique logistics” — two convention centers and two international airports.

“We’re continuously training to prepare for the DNC,” Mayer said. “We look to plan for all the … scenarios that could come up during this convention. Training such as today’s will help us prepare for various hypothetical situations that can occur during the DNC.”

WLS-TV reported in February that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in a memo warned both conventions had “tinderbox” potential due to what the report described as the current political and social environment. Crain’s Chicago Business this week reported that Chicago is using DNC grant funding to buy an $11 million helicopter.

“The FBI has a long history of supporting the Secret Service” and is ready to use “any asset that the FBI has available to mitigate threats here in Chicago,” said FBI special agent in charge Robert W. “Wes” Wheeler Jr.

The Secret Service will be responsible for security at the United Center and McCormick Place and the containment areas immediately surrounding them. The Chicago Police Department is responsible for everything outside the venues, including management of protests.

CPD chief of counter-terrorism Duane DeVries said the entire department has or will receive First Amendment and field training that has been observed by those managing CPD’s compliance with the constitutional policing reform consent decree.

“We understand the First Amendment; we welcome First Amendment activity and demonstrations as long as it’s peaceful,” DeVries said, but noted that violence and destruction to property will not be tolerated.

DeVries noted that the thousands-strong protests that have become regular weekend occurrences since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack of Israel have been peaceful.

“The organizers are in very good communication with our chief of patrol,” DeVries said. “I think that helps. We don’t want to violate or stop anyone from their First Amendment rights.”

The CPD has learned from “our mistakes,” DeVries said, including the civil disturbances in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and when Chicago hosted the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in 2012.

Making a security plan for the convention is ongoing, and additional training and tabletop exercises will be held.

Contact Amanda Vinicky: @AmandaVinicky[email protected]

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