Security stepped up for Taste

June 24, 2011 8:56:04 PM PDT
Chicago police are implementing changes to keep festival goers safe at the Taste of Chicago, which kicked off Friday.

The security changes include more surveillance cameras and extra undercover officers walking among the crowd. The increase in security follows a recent cycle of violence at Chicago's lakefront and in the Gold Coast neighborhood.

For some Taste goers, the difference in the amount of security is noticeable.

"I feel a lot safer now that they're checking bags," said Taste goer Anita Robinson.

"There were no bag checks before. Here they checked all our bags very well and I feel definitely a lot safer this year," said Taste goer Hugo Garcia.

When the gates opened for this year's celebration, teams of Chicago police officers were more visible along with private security.

"I've been here a couple of times where there's been fights and I haven't been here for a couple of years because of that," said Taste goer Lori Pizza.

"I heard there was gonna be more security this year -- one way in and one way out -- so that made me feel better about coming," said Taste goer Angel Harrison.

The new security plan is the brainchild of the city's new police Supt. Garry McCarthy and comes as the Chicago Park District produces the Taste for the first time.

"We worked closely with the Chicago Police Department and rely on them for expertise, and they put together a great plan. We are confident that Taste of Chicago is a safe event," said Taste of Chicago Event Manager Mary Slowik.

"We're going to have officers posted in between the transportation hubs, at the transportation hubs, on the transportation hubs, and in and out of the actual event itself," McCarthy said. "We are fully committed to ensuring that this is a safe family event here in Chicago. I'm very confident that that is actually going to occur."

Longtime Taste vendor John Clark of Reggio's Pizza says it is important that people feel safe.

"We have to make certain the public is taken care of. That the public is secure and OK coming down here," Clark said.

Food vendor Mary Madison said she has no overall concerns about security at the Taste.

"I mean, I think that they have instituted some helpful measures in terms of gating, having designated entrances and exits," said Madison, chef and owner, Lagniappe Creole Cajun Joint.

Madison said she has seen trouble in the past. She was cooking up crawfish three years ago at the Taste when four people were shot following the July 3 fireworks show, she said.

With reports of recent mob attacks in the downtown area, Madison said she hopes the event will stay violence-free."Well, obviously when people feel threatened, they probably would not come out and spend as much money, so it would definitely be a direct economic impact," Madison said.

"We're very comfortable that we'll have a fun, safe, family-friendly event," said Jessica Maxey Faulkner, Chicago Park District.

Some long-time Taste of Chicago vendors credit changes the police have made in the past few years with making the Taste safer. They are welcoming the latest security enhancements and changes by the department for this year's event.

"Last year, I don't think anything really happened. This year, we're hoping nothing happens again. Most of the stuff was outside of the Taste. We really think this year will be a good year," said vendor Nick Mallory.

The Taste of Chicago is closing a half an hour earlier so people can begin to leave while it's still light out.

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