A Chicago Police Department drill at Wrigley Field Thursday morning featured two police officers posing as active shooters with pistols.
Their mission: terrorize hundreds of volunteers posing as fans at the ballpark.
The simulated bad guys fired blanks. A response by police officers included rounds of ammunition filled with colored powder.
“They’re objective is to try to get into the stands and start shooting,” Mark Nielsen, assistant deputy fire commissioner for the Chicago Fire Department, said outside Wrigley.
Hundreds of volunteer “fans” gathered at the ballpark as early as 7 a.m. to participate in the training exercise, which kicked off in earnest around 10:30 a.m. with an announcement over Wrigley’s speaker system.
Sounds of a ballgame then commenced: organ music and announcements on the loud speaker. The flat-screen TVs in the concourse aired a Cubs home game, with Jake Arrieta on the mound. Cubs personnel manned the gates.
A few minutes later, bursts of gunfire could be heard.
Fire department personnel used fake blood to make it look like a number of the volunteers had been shot.
Before the exercise got underway, law enforcement and fire personnel massed outside the ballpark near the left field stands, including several officers who discussed a simulated hostage situation inside the ballpark.
Initial plans called for the two active shooters to enter through Gate K near the left field foul pole. But with reporters and TV news cameras camped out near the gate, police called an audible and the gunmen entered somewhere else.
Nielsen said the shooters would be challenged by armed ballpark security. “And we usually have CPD assets here during games,” he said.
“But the basic objective is that you have patrolmen who get on scene and they put together a contact team and their team of patrolmen is to make entry and then try to find that bad guy, seek him out and shoot him.”
A second group of officers were to secure areas that had already been swept by the first team in order to allow medical personnel safe access to the wounded, Nielsen said.
“Normally the SWAT (team) is usually an afterthought,” Nielsen said. “Because they’re coming from a distance, so we can’t usually rely on SWAT.”
However, plenty of SWAT team members were on hand.
Plans for the drill began to take shape in February when the lieutenant in charge of CPD’s SWAT team approached Nielsen.
“He asked me if we could help them out with this drill,” he said. “They knew they we’re going to have (access) to Wrigley Field during the All Star break.”
Three ambulances were on the scene to make simulated runs to a local hospital. And medical personnel from the fire department were on scene as well, prepared to triage victims.
“Unfortunately, these are necessary exercises,” Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who was not at the drill, said by phone Thursday morning. “Hopefully we’re ahead of the curve and this never happens.”
Tunney posted a note on Facebook notifying residents last week that “simulated ammunition and flashbangs would be used during the mock incident.”
But many of the people who wandered by were unaware of what was taking place, including a mother with four young children.
“It’s kind of scary to think about,” she said.
The initial drill was followed by a second exercise to get as many police and fire personnel stationed in the area involved as possible.
Asked what sparked the training, Neilsen said: “The world sparked the training.”