Recently Chicago played host to the international NATO conference. The world’s spot light was on my beloved town. However that spot light was more on the performance of the Chicago Police Department and how it handled the protestors that came from all around the globe to demonstrate and in some cases to try to provoke a riot.
In 1968 the Chicago Police Department was the focus of media attention for the way it handled the riots and demonstrations during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Many people expected and hoped for a repeat of that performance. They were sorely disappointed. What they did see was a shinning example of a highly professional police force acting in an extremely professional manner.
What you did see on streaming video and major media coverage was groups of protestors attempting to bait the officers on the line. You saw protestors throw objects from behind the safety of their lines into the lines of police officers. You saw protestors striking officers with sticks. You saw protestors pushing and shoving officers.
When you saw officers take action you saw officers reacting as a team in coordinated actions designed to separate the trouble makers from the crowds with a minimum effect on the crowd. What you saw the CPD do was an effort to ensure that problems were not escalated and that tensions were reduced.
When you did see officers take action it was quick and effective.
What you did see also was our Superintendent up with the front lines lending a hand and actively managing and coordinating the officers. My hat is off to him. He earned a lot of officers’ respect that weekend.
Additionally Chicago Police used a relatively new technique to curtail the negative behavior of the protestors. Officers who are assigned to bicycle patrol and who normally patrol congested traffic areas and the parks were used extremely effectively to head off and direct the protestors’ movements.
The bike units deployed to locations in the Chicago Downtown area and where able to get through traffic and crowds where buses and squads would have been bogged down. They were then able to race ahead of protestors and get into position. This allowed the CPD to control the movement of the protestors to approved areas only.
Additionally the bike officers were able to use the bikes in front of themselves as barriers when they were on foot. This was extremely effective both tactically and on a public relations viewpoint. Police in riot gear are very intimidating on TV but officers in bike helmets with mountain bikes are much friendlier looking while still being highly effective.
Sadly, through this entire weekend the groups of protestors, like the Black Block, who stated their entire purpose was anarchy and disorder, drowned out the message of the many people who showed up to peacefully demonstrate and try to get their message across. I was glued to the media through out the weekend when ever possible and very little of the peaceful message came through.
What you unfortunately did see from the protestors was a lot of people shouting obscenities and insults at officers while wearing bandanas to hide their identities.
After the weekend was over President Obama and Mayor Emanuel both accepted accolades for the NATO conference and proclaimed Chicago a world class city. I would be surprised if anyone reading this article can tell me what was actually discussed at this conference. Truth be told if Chicago is a world class city it is due in no small part to the efforts and performance of the officers of the Chicago Police Department.
Over the years the CPD has had its share of black eyes due to scandals and drunken off duty officers. Without rehashing these events I would like to point out that these have been the 1%. The 99% are the officers who show up for work every day. They do a job that has little respect from the public and from the city that employs them. And yet they show up every day to do what needs to be done.
Everyone interviewed spoke so highly of the actions of the police officers on the detail. The facts are that these officers are just as professional and determined to do a good job every time they put on their star and go to work. The only difference over that weekend was that they were on nationwide television.
The skilled and professional behavior seen on TV is the same and from the same officers who you see every day patrolling streets and walking beats. In other words, while they should be commended for their performance during the NATO convention everyone should remember that that is the way they do their job on a daily basis.
The members of the CPD can take pride in their performance the weekend of the NATO conference but they can take pride in the way they did their job last night and the night before that and every tour of duty they have ever finished.
For the most part this is the same behavior I have observed from police officers wherever I have traveled in the USA. I am proud to be a police officer and I am very proud to be a Chicago police officer.
Lt. Robert Weisskopf is a 30-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. Lt. Weisskopf comes from a law enforcement family, including two uncles, a nephew, and his father. Weisskopf wears his father’s lieutenant’s star. Lt. Weisskopf is a graduate of Lewis University with a degree in criminal justice. He currently serves as commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department’s Alternate Response Section, which has approximately 200 officers, a unit bigger than most police departments in the United States. Weisskopf is an expert in collaborative leadership and informally mentoring younger officers. He enjoys the constant challenge of policing and problem solving. He just finished a five-year term as President of the Chicago Police Lieutenants Association, the collective bargaining organization for the Chicago Police Department’s lieutenants and was chief negotiator of the current contract.