Chicago police get high marks for NATO protests

Crowd control tactics far cry from violent ’68 images

Chicago police officers apparently only used their batons in certain face-to-face confrontations with protesters.

CHICAGO - The sight of Chicago police raising billy clubs against demonstrators was the kind of image that has dogged the city’s police force longer than most of those who clashed with protesters have been alive.

But after Sunday’s clash during the NATO summit played out on television, virtually no one was talking about a “police riot,’’ as they did in 1968 when baton-wielding officers waded into crowds of demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention. Nor was there the kind of criticism that was leveled at the Seattle police after a violence-plagued 1999 international summit.

Protest leaders outside the venue where President Obama was meeting with world leaders offered a harsh assessment of police tactics. But most others praised the police for their restraint, and in public, they performed mostly as Superintendent Garry McCarthy vowed they would, from their crowd-control tactics to their interactions with protesters.


“We got them trained and equipped, and they executed the plan on all levels,’’ McCarthy said, on the street Monday during a march outside Boeing Co. headquarters. “It hasn’t been that big of a deal, quite frankly. It’s almost like it was harder dealing with the hype than the event itself.’’

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Late Monday, Chicago police spokeswoman Carolyn Deming said that 90 people were arrested, and eight officers were injured before and during the summit. Authorities said many of those arrested were released without charges being filed.

McCarthy, who stood behind his troops pointing and shouting orders during the worst clashes with protesters, said Chicago’s performance dealing with the protests was a “how-to’’ for other cities. “And that is to be patient and tolerant,’’ he said.

The assessment was shared by some who have studied the department and its history of brutality.

“I think they helped their reputation,’’ said Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor. “Generally speaking, the CPD seemed to exercise an extraordinary amount of restraint.’’


From what can be assessed from publicly available accounts, officers only used their batons in face-to-face confrontations with protesters pushing against police lines, what McCarthy called “assaults’’ on his officers. They used bicycles, both to escort protesters and as portable barricades. They employed intelligence gathering, starting long before the summit. That led to the arrests of five men on terror-related charges - including three accused of making Molotov cocktails in a plot to attack President Obama’s campaign headquarters and other targets - days before the summit started.

Perhaps most significantly was the way officers handled alleged troublemakers. McCarthy said the officers were training to “surgically extract’’ individuals who broke the law in a way that disrupted crowds as little as possible - in contrast to confronting entire crowds as the department had done in the past.

On Sunday night, for example, a few minutes after a full water bottle flew out of a crowd of protesters and into a phalanx of riot gear-clad officers in front of the Art Institute of Chicago, a team of five or six officers emerged, rushing across the street.

In seconds, they had grabbed the man they thought was responsible, dragged him back across the street and through their own front line of officers that opened up long enough for them to get by before closing ranks again.

Though there was some shouting, protesters appeared to accept what they had just seen, with some demonstrators even joking to one another that the police had, in fact, captured the man who threw the bottle.


What they did not see was the officers, in the minutes before the arrest, pass information to each other about who they thought threw the bottle, telling each other what he was wearing.

The officers may have had help. A key component in the plan to target individuals was using what is considered the most extensive surveillance system in the country. Inside the city’s emergency center, what was happening wherever protesters gathered was being watched on what looks like a movie screen.

Officials at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications could not immediately say whether workers at the center aided in that arrest but said they provided officers information to help identify Sunday’s law-breaking individuals.

Not everybody agreed the police acted properly. Whatever violence there was, said Joe Iosbaker, a protest organizer, was the fault of police, not the protesters. He tried to compare the events with what happened on the city’s streets in 1968. Dozens were arrested, and protest leaders reported a number of people hurt.

“It’s not the same proportion, but the images have to be discussed in that context,’’ he said.