The Fortress of Hyde Park

October 15, 2008 8:58:44 PM PDT
Even though the U.S. Secret Service is in charge of protecting Barack Obama's house on the South Side, Chicago taxpayers are getting hit twice for his protection. Senator Obama has been receiving full Secret Service protection for more than a year and a half, longer than any presidential candidate in American history. Citizens are paying millions in federal taxes to protect the Democratic and Republican candidates for the White House.

But in Chicago, taxpayers have to foot a second tab for the "fortress of Hyde Park."

Since May of 2007 when Secret Service agents started protecting Obama on the campaign trail with the trademark sunglasses, earpieces and talking into their hands, they have also been stationed in front of his home 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a command center, a war wagon of weapons and a fleet of federal vehicles.

His street has been turned private with no public traffic allowed. Each end of the street is blockaded by concrete barriers. On the south end, barricades stretch for a block each direction along Hyde Park Boulevard, staffed by the Secret Service that is in charge.

According to Secret Service records, Obama's protection is a large part of the more than $80 million being spent on candidate security this year alone. But it isn't enough, according to Secret Service officials, who asked Chicago police for help. The city has assigned at least five patrol cars there day and night - a half dozen uniformed officers and shift supervisors.

"We are able to handle that, working with the US Secret Service, we can balance our work load for that. He's our senator and he's hopefully going to be our next president, so it's an honor to serve and protect his home," said Supt. Jody Weis, Chicago Police Dept.

Police say the officers assigned there are pulled from districts citywide, not just from the 21st District that covers Hyde Park. Even though the city is in a budget crisis, Chicago taxpayers will foot the bill for this unplanned expense. Secret Service officials say they do not reimburse.

"I think the majority of people understand the need for this kind of inconvenience and at some point is no longer an inconvenience," said Shirley Newsome, Southeast Chicago Commission.

It is a tourist attraction. One couple from England went to the Sears Tower and then to Obama's house, marveling at the security.

"You're getting good tax value out of it. We cannot afford to lose this man," said Fred Emery, visiting from U.K.

Near Obama's home last month, one man was arrested after cops found a gun in his car. But the security zone hasn't affected crime nearby: 37 robberies and burglaries took place just this month, and there was a violent assault with the offender seen on security video, two blocks from Mr. Obama's house. The offender has not been caught.

For many reasons, law enforcement is faced with a unique situation in protecting Senator Obama and his family. Among them is that the location of their home is in a large, urban area. The other candidates for the White House do not present that challenge.

If the Chicago police superintendent's unusual endorsement comes true, the Obama security detail would become permanent and have to be budgeted at a time the rest of the city is cutting back.


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