election safety

Chicago Officials Ramp Up Police Presence, Urge Calm as They Brace for Potential Election Protests

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said while "there are no incidents on the horizon based on our latest intelligence," the department is stepping up patrols for Halloween weekend and election week

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Chicago police are ramping up patrols, the city has activated its emergency preparedness center and officials are warning of potential closures as they prepare for the possibility of election protests next week.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said while "there are no incidents on the horizon based on our latest intelligence," the department is stepping up patrols for Halloween weekend and election week.

"Should demonstrations take place, our officers will be there to protect First Amendment rights of protesters," Brown said. "People in general have very high anxiety as it related to the upcoming election and we understand that and we are focused on ensuring our officers will work to de-escalate, to calm tensions so that everyone is comfortable exercising their right to vote. We're also there to prevent lawlessness. There will be a zero tolerance for criminality during this time."

Chicago police are preparing to protect voters, protesters, city residents and businesses this Halloween and through Election Day, the city's police superintendent said Friday.

He warned that police will "take swift action" if looting is reported.

"We will not tolerate looting or any other criminal behavior," Brown said. "We've taken a strong stance on this. You make it a point. So the message is don't loot, Chicago. If you do loot, you will be held accountable. If you escape, we will find you and bring you to justice."

Mayor Lori Lightfoot outlined the city's "preparedness and safety plans" for Tuesday's election, noting that the city has conducted "workshops" to prepare workers for various events.

"These include weather emergencies, outbreaks of COVID, as well as any protests arising for the possibility that the presidential election remains undecided on election night and contested through the following days," she said.

In addition to increased patrols, the city is prepared to deploy anywhere from 60 to 300 "infrastructure assets" in the event of a public safety emergency. Lightfoot said those assets, which include trucks from the Department of Streets and Sanitation and the water department, would be used "to protect neighborhood and commercial corridors and critical businesses."

"Nov. 3 is coming up fast and no matter what happens it will be a big day for all of us," Lightfoot said. "You've heard me say this before, this election, particularly at the top of the ticket, is the most consequential in our lifetime."

She added that city employees have been working with the Chicago Board of Elections "to make sure that the election goes off without a hitch."

"The act of voting is sacred to our democracy," she said. "It is the one way that individual citizens have power. To ensure that our rights are protected for every single one our residents, we are doing everything that we can to protect and encourage your right to vote."

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner said the department is doing everything they can to keep voters safe from COVID-19 – and so far, the plan seems to be working.

She reminded voters that masks are required for voting and that is "absolutely safe to vote."

In the event of large demonstrations, the city plans to alert businesses through its emergency alert system. Chicago police also set up "business hotlines" in 22 districts where business owners "can call if they are concerned about their safety."

Lightfoot cautioned that businesses are being hit exceptionally hard by the coronavirus pandemic, particularly as new restrictions begin in the city Friday, and additional challenges could force many out of business.

"We have to be in this together," she said. "But we also have to support each other and we have to particularly support our businesses, our small neighborhood businesses in particular, and I want to make sure that whatever it is people choose to express, that they honor their neighbors, who have sacrificed so much to get to the place that they can even open up a business and have sacrificed even more in this incredibly difficult year."

Lightfoot urged residents to remain calm "no matter the outcomes" of the elections.

"In this city we have a long history of peaceful protests," she said. "Let's honor that legacy in the days to come. We need to de-escalate from this long, difficult year. And as I said, I know that emotions are already high. There's a lot of apprehension that might happen next Tuesday. But please, I call upon each of you to channel your emotions into peaceful productive means of expression. We should be a model for the nation."

About 7 in 10 voters say they are anxious about the election, according to an AP-NORC poll this month. Biden supporters were more likely to say so than Trump supporters — 72% to 61%.

Some states and groups are preparing for tension at polling places. In Ohio, the League of Women Voters has been recruiting "peacekeeper teams" of clergy and social workers to ease stress at the polls. At least 125 people have signed up.

Election officials are training poll workers on how to de-escalate conflict and ensuring they're prepped on the rules about poll monitoring, voter intimidation and harassment.

"The procedures have always been there. We’ve just never had to use them," said Ellen Sorensen, an elections judge in Naperville, Illinois, outside Chicago. "Perhaps this time we may. I don’t know."

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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