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City preps for potential election-related unrest

During a news conference Thursday, Chicago’s top cop said officials are planning for protests that could include “embedded agitators that might loot or cause violence or destroy property.”

Chicago police Supt. David Brown. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

City officials on Thursday held additional coordinated drills in preparation for another possible round of civil unrest related to the November election.

During a subsequent news conference at the headquarters of the Office of Emergency Management and Control, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown noted that officials haven’t identified any “credible threats” for Election Day. But he said they’re “well aware” of the recent domestic terrorism plot to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“We’re cognizant of the landscape as it relates to intelligence information spinning out from that,” Brown said of the plan allegedly hatched by members of a Michigan militia to overthrow the state’s government.

Brown also told reporters that officers and other officials are actively planning for demonstrations that could include “embedded agitators that might loot or cause violence or destroy property.”

The stark warning comes after Chicago grappled with waves of destructive civil unrest this summer amid the nationwide reckoning over race that was sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Brown noted that police believe “there was some coordinated effort over the summer to embed agitators in peaceful protests.”

“We made arrests of people not living in Chicago and not living in Illinois,” he said. “And so, from those lessons learned from over the summer, we are planning for that to be a feature of peaceful protest, a slight embedment of people who have no intention of protesting but every intention of committing crime.”

Throughout November, only certain officers dedicated to protest management and critical infrastructure protection will have their days off canceled, according to Brown. However, he said that’s subject to change based on any firm “intelligence information” received by the department.

The planning comes less than three weeks before an unprecedented election that includes a contentious presidential race that has further divided a country grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

But with more voters opting to cast their ballots by mail to avoid crowded polling places, there’s a chance the results of the presidential race won’t be conclusive when polls close on Nov. 3. In any event, President Donald Trump has refused to say whether he’ll accept the results of the election — a move that could serve as another nationwide flashpoint.

Rich Guidice, executive director of the OEMC, said the city “has taken an all hands on deck approach” to preparing for the election, including coordinating a list of agencies and departments and planning to activate the city’s Emergency Operations Center. Thursday’s exercise was the third conducted so far, with another planned later this month.

Guidice also noted that his staff met Wednesday with unnamed members of Chicago’s “business community.” And while Guidice said there are “ongoing conversations” about businesses hiring private security firms in the lead-up to the election, he added that city officials aren’t recommending that storefronts take steps like reinforcing glass or installing plywood in the coming weeks.

“There’s no reason for us to tell them that at this time,” Guidice said.