Chicago to form ‘vehicular terrorism task force’

SHARE Chicago to form ‘vehicular terrorism task force’

Alderman Ed Burke during the Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall. Wednesday, October 28, 2015. Brian Jackson/ For the Chicago Sun-Times

It’s no longer a matter of if, but when a truck is used to mow down innocent citizens in Chicago, an influential alderman said Monday.

Ald. Edward Burke (14th) made that statement before pushing a resolution through the Finance Committee he chairs urging the city to create a Chicago Vehicular Terrorism Task Force and report back in 120 days with a specific response plan.

That plan may include strategic installation of movable bollards in front of important buildings and other terrorist targets and regional coordination with truck rental agencies where terrorists might obtain their weapons of choice.

Burke said it was eerily ironic that the vote on the resolution comes just hours after yet another terrorist attack in Manhattan.

A 27-year-old man with a pipe bomb strapped to his body set off the crude device in the subway near Times Square on Monday, injuring him and three other people at the height of the morning rush hour.

“That underlines the fact that this is not simply speculation anymore. It is reality. It is not a question of if an attack like this is gonna take place. It’s a question of when,” Burke said.

“We need to be pro-active because so much of these plans and preventative approaches depend on cooperation on a metropolitan basis. A truck or a van could very easily be rented outside the corporate limits of Chicago and brought into the city. There needs to be protocols in place for these rental agencies to have the opportunity to share information.”

Burke noted that, as Chicago “awakens to the grave threat to pedestrian access routes easily accessible to vehicular attacks,” New Orleans, Las Vegas and New York have already taken steps to identify the most effective preventive measures.

“Creation of buffer zones. Positioning of city and police vehicles near entry points to serve as a deterrent to would-be attackers. Deploying police vehicles within the perimeter of an event so it can respond quickly to an attack in progress,” the alderman said.

Burke also suggested the creation of a no-truck-or-van rental list similar to the no-fly list created by the Department of Homeland Security.

Alicia Tate-Nadeau, executive director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said the city met as recently as Friday with representatives of the truck rental industry to discuss the possibility of stepped up regulations.

“Regardless of what happens at the national level, we are not going to wait to try to strengthen our position in this area,” Tate-Nadeau told the Finance Committee.

North Side Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) urged the newly-created task force to follow New York City’s lead and consider installing “moveable bollards” in front of key targets.

“We’re spending millions of dollars on bike lanes around the city to encourage cycling and walking. We have to look at what are some of those things we can do now so that we’re not waiting until after something happens,” Osterman said.

Osterman agreed with Burke that, “It’s not a matter of if, but when” a terrorist attack hits Chicago.

He noted that the shooter responsible for the Las Vegas massacre had attempted to book a room overlooking Grant Park during Lollapalooza.

“I just spent the weekend in New York and saw where the vehicle got on a bike lane and killed the people and injured eleven more…The time of day that this occurred – had it happened at a different time when school was letting out, more people could have been killed or injured,” Osterman said.

“Since that incident that happened on Oct. 31, New York has put in moveable bollards to prevent vehicles.”

Osterman demanded that the Chicago Park District have a “firmer seat at the table” on the vehicular terrorism task force.

“In the summertime – and even in the wintertime today – there’s people that are jogging and running and walking their kids and playing along the lakefront,” he said.

“It’s critical that the Park District have a more active, engaged role. We also have Soldier Field that’s under Park District jurisdiction.”

Burke introduced the resolution in response to the Halloween truck attack in New York City.

On that day, an immigrant from Uzbekistan rented a truck and used it to mow down people on a bike path near the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

At the time, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Chicago would learn from it and consider further regulating a truck rental industry that is currently open to anyone willing to pay their money and plunk down a driver’s license.

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