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Lightfoot turns to retired U.S. marshal to lead security detail

The mayor’s security detail has been traditionally run by active-duty Chicago Police Department officials.

James Smith, former inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service.
James. M. Smith

In a break with tradition, Mayor Lori Lightfoot will hire a retired deputy U.S. marshal to run her security detail, with one mayoral aide noting that “it’s a dangerous time in our country.”

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson on Monday told the Chicago Sun-Times, “We don’t really comment on executive protection, but at the end of the day the mayor has to be comfortable with her detail.”

Johnson said he believes Lightfoot has confidence in the police.

“This is her police department now,” he said.

The retired deputy marshal is James M. Smith, a managing member of a private security company called Silver Star Protection. Smith declined comment Monday.

The appointment of a retired federal official to run the mayor’s detail is a departure from past practices. The mayor’s security detail has been traditionally run by active-duty police officials.

An aide to Lightfoot, who asked not to be named, said “four or five” retired officials from law enforcement agencies other than the Chicago Police Department will work with Chicago officers on the mayoral security detail.

No Chicago police positions are being eliminated, the aide said. The active-duty Chicago police officials are “integrating well” with the retirees, the aide added.

Asked whether Smith is being hired because of an increased threat to the mayor, the aide said, “Just think about it. It’s a very dangerous time in our country.”

The mayoral aide also said Lightfoot has “faith and trust” in the Chicago Police Department.

Lightfoot’s decision to overhaul her bodyguard detail did not sit well with the Fraternal Order of Police.

“For as long as anyone can remember, Chicago Police have provided the security for the Mayor of this City. They have done an outstanding job, no matter who was the Mayor,” FOP President Kevin Graham wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

“Those jobs are done by Chicago Police Officers and we at the FOP intend to keep it that way.”

Graham’s statement did not say whether the union representing rank-and-file Chicago Police officers planned to file a grievance contesting the change.

Lightfoot co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability, whose blistering report on the police department was issued before the U.S. Justice Department released its own report saying there was a “pattern and practice” of police civil-rights violations in Chicago. Those reports were prompted by the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014.

Smith retired as a senior inspector with the judicial security division of the U.S. Marshals Service. In that job, he protected Supreme Court justices, appeals judges and district-court judges.

Lightfoot was once a federal prosecutor and worked in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse where the U.S Marshals Service is based in Chicago.

Smith worked for the U.S. marshals service for 26 years. Earlier in his career he was a correctional officer at the Cook County Jail. Reporter Phil Rogers of NBC’s WMAQ-Channel 5 first reported that Smith would head Lightfoot’s security detail.

In 2016, Smith was mentioned in a Sun-Times story about former law-enforcement officials with ties to the medical-marijuana industry.