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Police union urges drastic action on looters: ‘Bring tow trucks in. Take all the cars. Take away their escape.’

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara says until looters realize “they’re not going to be allowed to just roam and destroy,” they’ll keep coming back. “Until you really get serious about putting the hammer down, they’re only gonna be bolder and bolder and bolder.”

Chicago police officers respond to reports of looting and rioting near West Madison Street and South Karlov Avenue on the West Side, Monday afternoon, Aug. 10, 2020.
Chicago police officers respond to reports of looting and rioting near West Madison Street and South Karlov Avenue on the West Side on Monday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Downtown Chicago will be ravaged again by caravans of looters until Mayor Lori Lightfoot imposes a curfew and strictly enforces it by impounding vehicles used to haul away stolen merchandise after using city trucks to pin them in.

That’s the pointed assessment from Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara after a second round of looting in less than three months gutted huge swaths of downtown, River North and Lincoln Park.

“Car caravans are the biggest problem. They can relocate all of their criminal behavior two miles away within five minutes. We can’t deploy 400 officers two miles away in that same amount of time. They can go where the police are not in a split second. By the time we show up there, we get the stragglers when the main force has already moved on to the next target,” Catanzara said Wednesday.

“If they want to get really serious, enact a curfew coincided with an ordinance that allows the officers to impound these vehicles. Charge ’em hefty, exorbitant fees to get their cars back. $2,500 if your car gets impounded. Until they get the message that they’re not going to be allowed to just roam and destroy, it’s not gonna stop. It’s only gonna get worse and worse.”

With access to downtown sealed off for the “foreseeable future,” Lightfoot has assured community leaders and neighborhood business owners that city trucks would be used to protect local commercial corridors.

That’s what she did after being accused of protecting downtown at the expense of South and West Side neighborhoods during the first round of looting.

On Wednesday, Catanzara urged the mayor to use those “city assets” to protect Chicago’s marquee shopping district as well.

“You’ve got all of these Streets and San trucks available to you. You could go down Michigan Avenue. Block off the street so these cars can no longer leave,” Catanzara said.

“Bring five Streets and San trucks. You block off access north and south. And you pin all these cars in in a certain block. Bring tow trucks in. Take all the cars. Take away their escape. Until you really get serious about putting the hammer down, they’re only gonna be bolder and bolder and bolder. And people who would just scream and yell on the sidelines are now partaking in this criminal behavior. It’s only encouraging more people to take advantage of an opportunity.”

Oliver Peoples at 941 N. Rush St. after looting broke out overnight in the Gold Coast and surrounding neighborhoods, Monday morning, Aug. 10, 2020.
The view through the broken window of Oliver Peoples, 941 N. Rush St., after looting broke out early Monday in the Gold Coast and surrounding neighborhoods.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The mayor’s office responded by accusing Catanzara of making suggestions “without a remote understanding of the facts.”

The statement noted that “infrastructure assets,” including “salt and tow trucks,” are already being used to keep all Chicago neighborhoods safe and that vehicles involved in Monday’s looting caravans are already being impounded.

“The city is utilizing every last resource to not only prevent looting but ensure those who commit the kinds of criminal acts we saw on Monday are brought to justice. This includes deploying a heavier police presence along Chicago’s shopping districts, restricting access to the downtown area overnight, deploying more than 100 Transportation, Streets and Sanitation and other infrastructure trucks and resources along our commercial corridors,” the mayor’s office said.

“On top of establishing a special team of detectives to identify suspects, stolen merchandise and ensure offenders are held accountable, the Department is also already impounding vehicles involved in the looting on Monday.”

The mayor and Catanzara have a frosty relationship made worse by the union’s president request that President Donald Trump send federal help to Chicago to fight violent crime.

Earlier this week, the mayor likened the coordinated caravans of looters who overwhelmed police to “organized crime” and said she would “not spare any expense” to bring them to justice.

“We can’t allow criminals to tarnish their legacy, their businesses, but more importantly their hope. I’m not gonna let that happen. And we are going hard at the people who are responsible,” she said.

“It’s not opportunistic and spontaneous when you already have U-Haul vans and cargo vans and you come equipped with precision tools to break into stores, to break into safes, to haul off cash registers and when you are coming with arms to fight off the police who are out there breaking up the looting. While there absolutely was a layer of opportunistic individuals, this was also organized crime. And we are going to break these crews and these rings and we are gonna bring them to justice. That is what we owe the residents of this city. Period.”

Downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) has argued Lightfoot “owns” the second round of looting because police “had intelligence that this was going to happen, yet it happened.” He has questioned the “strategy and tactical decision-making of the senior command who were unprepared” for the second assault in less than three months.

Now, Hopkins is demanding that Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown scour the country to find and hire law enforcement experts who specialize “in tactical plans for dealing with widespread social unrest.”

“We need a plan crafted by people with that level of expertise. Much like we did during the [2012 NATO] summit. We don’t have that and it shows every time we have hundreds, if not thousands of criminals taking over the streets. We don’t have a specific tactical response to deal with it. That’s why we couldn’t stop it,” Hopkins told the Sun-Times.

“That’s my criticism of her and this administration. The expertise that is needed to do what we need to do doesn’t seem to be there right now. Go get it.”