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Chicago's Downtown Mayhem Won't Be Repeated, Mayor-Elect's Chief of Staff Vows

Chicago Mayor-Clect Brandon Johnson will take office in May

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Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s newly appointed chief of staff says he has already made strategic and logistical changes to ensure there is no repeat of the downtown mayhem that gave Chicago a black eye around the world.

Rich Guidice said Friday he has spent the last few days “participating in after-action conversations” to make certain sufficient police personnel and “city assets” are downtown this weekend.

He called last weekend’s flat-footed performance by the Chicago Police Department “unacceptable,” but said the circumstances were unique.

“We received some late information regarding what was actually trending. We had some unusually warm days in April. … But that’s beside the point,” he said.

Leading into this weekend, we’ve already made a lot of adjustments. We have infrastructure assets that are on site in the downtown area. We have additional teams on site, undercover police personnel on site, just a lot more coordination,” said Guidice. “This morning, we had a coordination call regarding the potential for trends that are coming downtown. So we’re in a better place to make better decisions.”

Second Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins blamed a “total breakdown in command and control” at the Chicago Police Department for what turned into three nights of “mayhem.”

According to the Chicago Police Department, a total of 15 people — nine adults and six minors — were arrested late Saturday night after what appeared to be hundreds of people gathered near Millennium Park, with some engaging in “reckless and disruptive behavior,” police said.

On Friday, Hopkins said one of the strategy changes is to use “violence interrupters” downtown.

“They go up to large groups of youth and basically say, ‘Hey, don’t cause trouble while you’re down here.’ … We’ll have people from the Chicago Public Schools system who will recognize CPS students and can basically call them by name,” Hopkins said.

“The other side of that will be having prisoner transport vans parked all around Millennium Park,” said Hopkins.  “In the situation we saw last week where the young couple from South Carolina was attacked by at least 12 individuals, we wouldn’t have had the ability to arrest all 12 of them at that moment anyway. That’s gonna change.”

Ashley Knutson, 20, and her boyfriend Devontae “DJ” Garrison-Johnson, 22, were robbed and beaten last weekend, in the 100 block of North Wabash Avenue.

No one has been taken into custody for the attack, though 15 arrests were made throughout the night. After video of the attack circulated online, the couple and a good Samaritan who helped them said police officers failed to intervene.

“It kind of made me feel like the keys to the city were being handed over to this mob,” Lenora Dennis told the Sun-Times days after helping the couple to safety. “I don’t want to demonize the kids, but at the same time there has to be a level of accountability for the things that they were doing.”

Allegations that officers drove past the couple under attack are now the subject of an internal police investigation. But Guidice said there will be no rush to conclude officers deliberately drove by or looked the other way.

“There’s a lot of hardworking, dedicated people in the Chicago Police Department. And there could be reasons that may have looked like that may have happened,” he said.

Guidice has spent years quarterbacking public safety operations at marquee events, including Lollapalooza and the Chicago Marathon, and he will do the same as chief of staff when Chicago hosts the 2024 Democratic National Convention.

He acknowledged the barrage of negative publicity generated by the downtown mayhem may well scare off Democratic convention delegates. But he sought to reassure them.

“I look forward to the DNC coming to the city of Chicago. I look forward to being part of the planning process and making sure that the delegates are safe, the people who attend the event are safe and keeping our citizens safe,” he said. “We are certainly aware of the major event and Chicago being front and center and the challenges that come with it.”

Two weeks after Johnson is sworn in, Memorial Day weekend arrives. It’ll be Guidice’s job to prevent the long holiday weekend from becoming the start of a traditional summer surge of violence.

“We probably start talking about Memorial Day weekend in December, just as we start talking about snow in July,” he said.

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