‘Our Officers Will Be Ready’: Chicago Police Detail Protest Response and Safety Plans Ahead of DNC

Chicago police officers training at McCormick Place on June 6, 2024, ahead of the upcoming Democratic National Convention. (WTTW News)Chicago police officers training at McCormick Place on June 6, 2024, ahead of the upcoming Democratic National Convention. (WTTW News)

Chicago police Supt. Larry Snelling believes his officers will be ready to handle the large-scale protests expected during the upcoming Democratic National Convention, despite concerns from the city’s watchdog about the department’s training and preparations.

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The Chicago Police Department held an open training session Thursday at McCormick Place, where police demonstrated for media the different measures and strategies the department is planning to deploy during the convention, set for Aug 19-22.

“Our officers will be ready, disciplined and trained to deal with those situations,” Snelling said. “We want people to have their voices heard. The Chicago Police Department, we do not get political when it comes to this. Our job is public safety and we want to make sure that we keep the public safe.”

According to the CPD, the 2,500 officers who will be assigned to DNC duties will receive 48 hours of training beforehand. Officers will have days off canceled during the DNC and will be working extended hours during the convention, Snelling said.

During Thursday’s demonstration, police practiced with riot shields, demonstrated a “line relief” — a process that will allow officers to swap out while maintaining a consistent barrier — and showed how to clear space for an ambulance or other emergency vehicles.

According to Snelling, the CPD’s training is focused on officer discipline and ensuring police are working together as a cohesive unit.

“Every aspect of this training that we’re doing is rooted in the First and the Fourth Amendment,” Snelling said. “The reason is that it’s important for our officers to understand communication — effective communication out there — and an effective response based on constitutionality.”

Snelling reiterated that safety is his department’s main goal, and that arrests and use of force are “last resorts.” Still, he said police will not tolerate violence or vandalism.

Chicago police officers at a news conference at McCormick Place on June 6, 2024. (WTTW News)Chicago police officers at a news conference at McCormick Place on June 6, 2024. (WTTW News)

Snelling said these trainings weren’t available to officers back in 2020, when the department failed to protect the constitutional rights of thousands of Chicagoans during the protests and violence triggered by the police murder of George Floyd.

Last week, Chicago Inspector General Deborah Witzburg said in a report that while the CPD has made “some significant improvements” on this front since 2020, her office still had concerns about the CPD’s preparation plans.

Witzburg — who attended Thursday’s training — told WTTW News on Tuesday she remains particularly concerned CPD officials have already been training officers on those policies, even though they have not been finalized and are being challenged in court by a coalition of reform groups.

“That risks some confusion,” Witzburg said on Tuesday’s episode of “Chicago Tonight,” adding that this also “undermines the sincerity” of the department’s required effort to solicit feedback from members of the public.

The OIG found that since 2021, the CPD has improved its protocols for a citywide approach for large-scale event management. But the department’s draft policies concerning mass arrests and crowd control are outdated and fail to “sufficiently address the constitutional rights of lawful demonstrations.”

Snelling, who took over as top cop last year, said the CPD and city were “not prepared” to handle the mass protests in 2020. But he believes the steps police have taken since then will put officers in a better place to maintain safety while still protecting protesters’ First and Fourth Amendment rights.

“Even if we have something spontaneous like (what happened in 2020) pop up now, the training that you see these officers going through, we can get those officers deployed to a location quickly,” Snelling said. “They can mobilize and they can respond in the most professional way that they need to. (In) 2020, we did not have that.”

Heather Cherone contributed to this report.

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson | [email protected] | (773) 509-5431

A Safer City is supported, in part, by the Sue Ling Gin Foundation Initiative for Reducing Violence in Chicago. 

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