Intelligence Report: Riot police blocks away from anti-NATO protests, out of view

May 17, 2012 (CHICAGO)

In this Intelligence Report: Thursday's demonstrations are providing a better look at precisely how Chicago police are prepared for the possibility of civil disorder.

Several protest venues Thursday were calm on all both sides, and Chicago police certainly appeared to be following through on their pledge not to aggravate protesters by showing up in black turtle suits and riot helmets.

But what happens if demonstrations go violent, if the police in regular uniforms cannot control crowds? The answer was a few blocks away.

Police in their customary street uniforms and bike patrol officers flooded protest zones Thursday. As repeatedly promised, there wasn't a cop in sight who had on battle gear. But, around the corner and a couple blocks away, the I-Team found the back-ups in waiting, stationed in unmarked, 15-passenger vans. These officers were dressed in black commando uniforms, with extra padding, and their personal riot gear was stowed in the back ready to go if they get the call that situation was deteriorating a few blocks away.

Also well out of public view at one of the protests Thursday: Police in hazmat suits in case protesters threw something toxic.

By late Thursday afternoon, some of the precautions were much more visible. Helicopters from numerous law enforcement agencies were seen flying lakefront patterns.

Friday morning, Air Force F-16s and other military jets will begin an exercise by NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command. It is scheduled to start around 9 a.m. and last two hours.

During the NATO summit itself, F-16's will patrol the sky over Chicago to enforce a wide no-fly zone for the protection of heads of state and foreign ministers from 60 nations.

Back on the ground around Chicago City Hall and the Cook County Building, some lower-tech protection measures have been taken. Flowers and greenery have been removed from sidewalk planters, and window boxes have been taken away from all sides of the building.

As one might expect, police have not offered a public blueprint of their strategy to deal with acts of violence if they occur during NATO protests.

There have been statements from police officials that they do not intend to use tear gas for crowd control or pepper spray. But police also have more aggressive responses available--if necessary.

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