Several police departments across the Chicago area said they are planning to increase the number of officers working Memorial Day parades and ceremonies nearly a year after seven people were killed and dozens wounded during a mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park.
Sgt. Joe Murphy of the Arlington Heights Police Department said the tragic events that occurred in Highland Park have the town looking closely at its public safety planning for all community events, including its Memorial Day parade.
“Members from the Police Department, Fire Department, public works and village administration have been working collaboratively with parade organizers to ensure we are hosting an event with safety as our No. 1 priority,” Murphy said.
One change paradegoers at Memorial Day events may notice is an increase in staffing levels, he said. There will be additional officers present at events this summer and an increased number of supervisors, he said, but other updated safety measures may go unseen.
Over the past year, the Fire and Police departments have been training together and focusing on active shooter and safety protocols for large community events, he said. The departments have reviewed reports detailing public safety responses to other violent incidents, according to Murphy, and the Arlington Heights Police Department has incorporated those recommendations into its training and operations.
Murphy said despite recent mass shootings, the village highly encourages community members’ continued participation in events like those on Memorial Day.
“The village of Arlington Heights prioritizes the safety and well-being of its residents and visitors,” he said. “We recognize the responsibility public safety holds to provide a safe environment for our community to come together and show our respect to the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces, particularly, those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Naperville police Cmdr. Michaus Williams said close to 30 officers will be assigned to the city’s Memorial Day Parade for security. He said police will block off streets and check rooftops along the parade route as they have for years.
A new tool for the department this season, though, is its tethered drone, Williams said. The tethered drone will allow police to identify potential threats from an aerial view, he said.
“(The tethered drone) gives you the advantage of being able to see something that doesn’t look right ahead of time,” he said.
The department plans to use the drone at most of its special events going forward, Williams said.
Aside from this, he said the department’s approach largely remains the same as previous years.
“We’ve always prepared for the worst-case scenario because parades are the certain type of special events that are vulnerable to any type of attack, whether it be a mass shooting or any kind of terrorist attack,” Williams said. “So our approach really hasn’t changed much.”
Park Ridge’s Memorial Day Parade will also feature a prominent police presence and other precautions this year.
“I think it is safe to say that all local police departments are looking at public gatherings and parades differently since the Highland Park tragedy,” Park Ridge police spokesperson Tom Gadomski told Pioneer Press in an email. “That being said, we are taking extra precautions, including the extra presence of our officers throughout the parade route.”
Chicago Police Department, Fire Department and Emergency Management & Communications held a news conference in early May to discuss safety plans for the city’s special events during the summer.
Brian McDermott, chief of patrol for the Chicago Police Department, said the department will address the public safety concerns raised by the community around large gatherings this summer.
The city’s Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony will be held Saturday at Daley Plaza. Following the event, a parade will travel down State Street from Lake Street to Van Buren Street.
McDermott didn’t share the specific plans set for Memorial Day, but he said the Bureau of Counter-Terrorism, the Crime Prevention and Information Center and the Strategic Decision Support Centers will monitor events like the parade in real time in order to deploy resources in a timely manner in an emergency.
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Jose Tirado, interim executive director of the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, shared that the city’s Summer Operations Center had been activated for the season.
He said the center facilitates department coordination when it comes to deploying resources for violence prevention, and when the center operates, calls take place daily between all agencies to share information.
Earlier this year, he said, the office released an app that provides users with emergency alerts, weather reports and event information. In the event of an emergency at a large community gathering, the app will push notifications alerting users about the threat.
First Deputy Fire Commissioner Mary Sheridan during the news conference also acknowledged Memorial Day as an unofficial start to summer and shared her hopes for a safe summer.
“We’re looking forward to the warmer weather just like our residents,” she said. “We know that all Chicagoans want to go out and enjoy the beaches, the parks, the lakefront downtown and we will be there to help assure their safety.”
Caroline Kubzansky of Pioneer Press contributed.