When it's your job to consider the "total environment" of the city of Chicago in an effort to make the upcoming G-8 and NATO summits secure, there's a lot to think about.
"When I looked at a global picture of that, I saw a lot of boats," said Frank Benedetto, head of the U.S. Secret Service in Chicago, who is relatively new in town. "Talking to a lot of people here, a lot of people who have those boats, they don't really care about NATO G-8, they want to go on their boat on a beautiful weekend in May."
But coming the 19th of that month, they'll care, too, as Benedetto said pleasure craft will be cleared out of Burnham Harbor for the meetings of world leaders at the nearby McCormick Place convention center.
The harbor is typically about 50 percent full that time of year, he said, but the boats will be temporarily moored someplace else at no cost to their owners. Benedetto made the remark at a briefing of Chicago business leaders and building managers this week, where federal agencies and Chicago police made some of their most candid remarks to date about security planning for the events.
Benedetto said the goal will be to close as few streets as possible as the motorcades of dozens of heads of state move about town.
It is sure to be interesting, he said, as the city will be springing to life as it normally does when the weather turns warm. In addition to the swarm of visitors the summits will bring, there should be NBA playoffs here that month, and the Cubs and White Sox play each other the same weekend.
"If people can't get to those events...," Benedetto said, his voice trailing off to laughter in a room of about 500 business professionals at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
Benedetto said the decision on moving the boats came after his team first considered whether they could be swept and kept secure while world leaders meet nearby, but ultimately the decision was that it wasn't feasible. Chicago Park District officials could not immediately detail where the boats will go for the three days of the summits.
Most of the questions from the audience at the event Wednesday dealt with the possible disruptions that mass protests could bring. Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy tried to tamp down those worries by saying the department has been studying similar events held in other cities in the recent past to learn about plans that worked.
It's impossible to know how many demonstrators will take to Chicago's streets and parks, he said. But, he added, "the top end of any one of these events is 10,000 protesters, and that's been a very consistent number."
Asked by an audience member whether tear gas would be used, McCarthy said no one should expect that.
"I'm trying to figure out how tear gas helps you control a crowd," McCarthy said. "It's never really become clear to me."
If demonstrators who are breaking the law appear in a large throng of people, "my expectation is we'll have an extraction team" that would go in and arrest them, McCarthy said.
"I don't think that something like tear gas is a good idea, because now you have a whole bunch of little crowds running around," McCarthy continued. "Just as a concept, tactically, it just doesn't seem to make sense to me."
And despite some controversy over the police handling of last fall's Occupy Chicago protests, McCarthy painted the experience as an overwhelming positive. Officers warned individual protesters in Grant Park before making arrests, he said.
"So, there's a psychology involved, if you treat them as a mob, they would be a mob," McCarthy said. "If you treat them as individuals, they were individuals. That's part of the lessons learned."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun