By John Byrne
2:16 PM CDT, June 21, 2011
There will be more undercover police officers in and around Taste of Chicago this summer than in years past as officials try to head off violence and other crimes by identifying people who are acting unruly before they break the law, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said today.
McCarthy would not say how many more officers will work the Taste, which opens to throngs of summer revelers Friday in Grant Park and runs through July 3. "It would be imprudent for us to do that," he said.
But he said the plainclothes cops will work the crowd in the Taste and at “choke points” such as train stations near Grant Park. The undercover presence will be in addition to the usual numbers of uniformed officers and private security guards, McCarthy said at a news conference with Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff and other city officials at Buckingham Fountain to discuss Taste preparations.
Police also will use more video surveillance than in years past as “a force multiplier” so police can monitor several locations and respond quickly to trouble, McCarthy said.
“We have a plan to provide a safe corridor both in and out” of the Taste, between the park and train stations in the area, McCarthy added. As in recent years, officers will check bags at the controlled entry points to the Taste, he said.
Taste will also close most nights at 8:30 p.m. rather than 9 p.m. to give police a little additional daylight to get people moving toward the exits and on to public transportation, according to Chicago Park District interim CEO Mike Kelly. The festival will close at 6 p.m. on July 3.
The city’s biggest summer party has seen violence in recent years, including four shootings, one fatal, in the Loop in 2008 following the city's fireworks. Police officials announced additional security measures after those incidents, and the traditional downtown fireworks displays have subsequently been scaled back.
The fireworks displays will be held at Navy Pier this year, on July 2 and July 4.
Increased reports of violence in recent months by youths in the downtown area have caused McCarthy to increase police presence around train stations and led to repeated questions from the media about his plan to deal with the situation.
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