Occupy Chicago protesters gather in Chicago's Grant Park after marching through the Loop, on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011. Armed federal officers wearing full battle gear are expected in the Loop next week to begin monitoring the area.
Starting next week, a downtown security perimeter labeled the "Red Zone" could be swarming with armed federal officers wearing full battle gear.
The highly visible extra protection comes weeks ahead of the May 20-21 NATO Summit in Chicago. The perimeter runs between West Harrison Street, West Adams Street, South State Street and South Franklin Street.
It's part of an effort to protect the dozens of federally operated buildings and federal workers in the Loop ahead of the summit. It includes the Dirksen Federal Building, the courthouse, the Metropolitan Correctional Center and a cluster of buildings on State Street.
Starting May 1 the Federal Protective Service will dispatch some additional backup from out of town. The service's deputy regional director told the Chicago Sun-Times those officers will carry non-lethal guns and beanbag weapons.
The number of officers protecting the Red Zone has not been disclosed, but the Sun-Times reports it's significant. There also will be regular patrols, traveling groups and officers with specific posts.
People will be able to walk in and out of the zone freely, and as of this point there have been no specific threats.
Much of the actual summit will be held at McCormick Place. On Wednesday, protest planners said they were told the perimeter around that building will include portions of Lake Shore Drive and Interstate 55.
Andy Thayer, a spokesman for the Coalition Against NATO/G8, claims the western boundary will be along the Dan Ryan Expressway, and the northern boundary is fluid, from 21st street to West Roosevelt Road, moving based on NATO activities at the museum campus and Soldier Field. I-55 marks the south end, and the eastern border, of course, is Lake Michigan, with emptied-out harbors and shore patrol.