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Superintendent Larry Snelling: The Chicago Police Department is ready for the DNC

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We are ready.

The Chicago Police Department, from the top down, has been intensely training and preparing for the Democratic National Convention since Chicago was announced as the host city last year. We immediately began planning for the thousands of delegates, journalists and protesters who will be descending on our city during the height and heat of summer.

This training actually began even before we were named as host city. 

Since the nationwide chaos following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, CPD has spent hundreds of hours training its officers and leadership for large-scale protests, marches and other mass gatherings. We have worked closely with community groups, faith leaders, our fellow city agencies, the Office of the Attorney General and the Independent Monitoring Team to help us rethink and revise policies and protocols on de-escalation, mass arrests, officer wellness, community engagement and field force issues.

We have conducted numerous tabletop exercises and command staff workshops and consulted with subject matter experts on best practices with three fundamental principles guiding everything we do: the sanctity of human life, an ironclad commitment to protecting the First and Fourth Amendment rights of everyone who sets foot in Chicago, and zero tolerance for vandalism and violence.

There will be considerable challenges, but we will address those challenges professionally and constitutionally as we protect our city. I have complete confidence that our officers will continue serving in a manner that we expect, the law demands and the people of Chicago deserve. 

From the United Center on the West Side to McCormick Place along the lake, from Roseland to Rogers Park, from Englewood to Edgewater and every community in between, we will do everything to keep our city safe.

As I’ve said repeatedly, if you want to protest and have your voice heard, CPD will protect your right to do so. But looting, burning property, inflicting violence on innocent people and attacking the police are criminal acts and are not protected by the First Amendment or tolerated by CPD. We are not going to allow anyone to destroy this city.

While we are training for mass arrest situations, making arrests is not the focus of our training, and we hope to avoid having to make arrests. Mass arrests will be the last resort. Our First Amendment rights policy was completely revised in 2022 and details how we respond to demonstrations and the efforts we are taking to give those in violation of the law multiple opportunities to disperse without arrest. 

This policy will work hand in hand with our coordinated multiple arrest policy. This policy was developed in collaboration with the Independent Monitoring Team, the Office of the Attorney General, subject matter experts and the consent decree calition. The policy details the procedures officers and supervisors must follow when a mass arrest incident is declared. It includes increased supervision, accountability and stronger documentation during mass arrest incidents. 

It is true that police departments across the country, including CPD, were caught off guard during the civil unrest of 2020. We were not as prepared or trained as we should have been for the explosion of rage and riots that swept through the streets of America. Peaceful demonstrations were hijacked by provocateurs and criminals who were determined to turn a call for justice for George Floyd into an excuse to loot and burn.

We will not allow that to happen again.

No one should compare the CPD of old with today’s CPD. We have learned from our past, and we have grown as an organization. Today’s CPD is a far better trained, equipped, community-focused and tech-savvy department. 

Our 2024 training in preparation for the DNC includes:

  • A 16-hour course spread over two days that provides a basic understanding of national standards for crowd control and management, as well as addressing legal, sociological and tactical concerns.
  • A more intensive 24-hour course held over three days on field force operations for frontline DNC personnel. The course also covers legal issues but includes a greater number of practical exercises and scenario-based training.
  • An eight-hour course — Law Enforcement Medical Rescue Training (LEMART)/Officer Wellness — focuses on the sanctity of life, tourniquets, chest seals, blast injuries, tactical breathing, hydration and stress management.

We have had a lot of experience in the last several months handling protests the right way. Almost every weekend since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, protesters, sometimes many thousands at a time, have marched through the streets of downtown. The marches and rallies have almost always been nonviolent. This isn’t just practice for the DNC. This is how we handle all First Amendment activity in our city.

The few times we have had to make arrests during protests or sit-ins, we first gave protesters repeated opportunities to disperse and leave on their own. Many voluntarily complied. After a reasonable amount of time, those who did not comply and continued to block a highway, office building or other private property were taken into custody.

Someone recently asked me if I was worried. No, I do not worry. It is a waste of time and energy. Instead, I channel that time and energy into a far more positive use. I plan. I prepare. Most importantly, I have complete faith and trust in the department, our officers and the people of Chicago.

We all want the same thing: a successful and safe convention.

Together, we can — and we will — make that happen.

We are ready.

Larry Snelling is superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. 

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email [email protected].

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