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Loop confrontation between cops, teens was ‘missed opportunity,’ Lightfoot says

Chicago police arrested at least 30 people April 17 as hundreds of teenagers converged on several areas throughout downtown. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday wrapped up two days of meetings on plans to combat the traditional surge in summer violence with a promise to prevent future “missed opportunities” to keep young people occupied.

Lightfoot was asked how she would like the city to handle large groups of young people, like those who came downtown during spring break after organizing on social media.

“We need to make sure that, when there’s a school break as there was, that we have plans for young people to have the opportunity to engage in productive activities in their neighborhoods,” she said.

“That was a missed opportunity. But we’re not gonna do that again. We’re gonna make sure that we’re thoughtful and intentional, particularly around school breaks. That’s why I’ve been spending so much time talking to, not just law enforcement, but the various agencies that have a real plan for the summer.”

Lightfoot was asked how she plans to handle large groups of young people if they insist on coming downtown and making mischief.

“Look, they’re residents of the city. They have an absolute right to come downtown. But we have to make sure they’re engaging in activities in the downtown area … respectful of the other people that are there enjoying the city,” she said.

Lightfoot’s first day of meetings, on Monday, was with Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and U.S. Attorney John Lausch at police headquarters.

Tuesday morning, Johnson discussed CPD’s summer strategy at a news conference — and also was asked about that night in mid-April where police made 30 arrests in the Loop as up to 200 officers confronted groups of unruly teens.

“We need to figure out ways to keep these kids busy so that they don’t come downtown with nefarious intentions,” Johnson said, but he added: “We will not tolerate misbehavior.”

At his Tuesday news conference, Johnson announced several promotions and staffing changes as part of the summer strategy. He’s adding two chiefs, four deputy chiefs, two executive officers and nine commanders.

According to CPD, officers will be more visible along the lakefront, including Lake Shore Drive, and will emphasize patrols in busier parks and at CTA and Metra stations.

Johnson said summer crime fighting will be guided in large part by “tech and data-driven police efforts” to help deploy officers to deter crime. CPD also noted the work of anti-violence groups and other community partners that can mediate conflicts before things get worse.

Lightfoot’s second day of meetings was held at City Hall. It included officials from the city departments of Public Health, Transportation, Streets and Sanitation, Family and Support Services and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

Also in attendance were officials from the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Park District.

If that sounds like a full-court press aimed at keeping the city safe this summer, it should, the mayor-elect said.

Asked what new ideas she has to prevent summer violence, Lightfoot said the onus is not on her to suggest new ideas. It’s to “make sure there’s thoughtfulness and intentionality around the way in which we are using scarce city resources,” she said.

“We know the areas of the city that are gonna be particularly challenged this summer. … Then, we look at those geographic regions and identify what city resources are there, programmatic things we should be doing. The areas, the times of day where those resources are most needed. Those are the kinds of things I’m challenging agency [and] department heads to be thinking about,” she said.

Is she now satisfied that Chicago has a solid plan in place to combat summer violence?

“We are on the right path, but there’s more work to be done,” Lightfoot said.

Johnson said his meeting with Lightfoot “went quite well. … It was very encouraging.”

With his long-term future up in the air, Johnson said he feels no particular “pressure” to please the incoming mayor.

“I have been a cop for 31 years,” Johnson said, talking to reporters about command changes in the department and gearing up for the summer. “So pressure doesn’t play into it at all. At the end of the day, you have to stay on the path that you think will help reduce crime in the city. You can’t wave a magic wand.”