Lightfoot’s security detail dramatically reduced

A police spokesperson refused to reveal specifics of the reduction, fearing it could invite more threats against a former mayor who already has had her share.

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Police officers guard the area near the house of then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot in Logan Square after protesters left the area on Aug. 13, 2020.

Police officers guard the area near the house of Mayor Lori Lightfoot in Logan Square after protesters left the area Aug. 13, 2020.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mayor Brandon Johnson has dramatically reduced the formidable bodyguard detail assigned to former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Logan Square home, in an apparent attempt to get more Chicago police officers on the street.

Law enforcement sources acknowledged Lightfoot’s detail has been slashed. But a police spokesperson refused to reveal specifics, fearing it could invite more threats to a former mayor who has already had her share.

A neighborhood resident, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Sun-Times there was only “one police car and a lot of space for parking being kept empty” outside the former mayor’s home Tuesday. That was the smallest police presence the neighbor had seen there in years.

The former mayor refused to comment on the reduction.

About a year into Lightfoot’s term, Chicago police quietly created a special unit to protect her home and City Hall and oversee her personal detail.

Unit 544, begun with a handful of officers, grew, as of March 21, 2022, to a roster of 65 officers, five sergeants and a lieutenant, city records show. The unit had swelled to 90 sworn officers this month, nearly matching the highest level recorded since its inception.

Like previous Chicago mayors, Lightfoot also had a separate personal bodyguard detail, which included about 20 officers. Lightfoot had hoped to use them into political retirement.

In an interview at the time, Lightfoot said the decision to create Unit 544 wasn’t related to criticism over Shakespeare District officers being posted near her house.

She said there was no “unified command” of officers at City Hall, her house and on her bodyguard detail, and that “didn’t make sense.”

Like other mayors, Lightfoot’s house was a magnet for protesters. But from the outset, she appeared more preoccupied with her security than most.

Chicago police officers stand guard outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home in Ravenswood during a protest on Feb, 19, 2018 over the possible closing of several Chicago public schools.

Chicago police officers stand guard outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home in Ravenswood during a protest on Feb, 19, 2018, over the possible closing of several Chicago public schools.

Sun-Times file photo

Shortly before taking office, Lightfoot chose retired U.S. Marshal Jim Smith to head a bodyguard detail that, for every other mayor, has been run by Chicago police officers, and she gave him leadership control over all of officers guarding City Hall office and her home.

She reassigned the head of the City Hall police detail after protesters demanding affordable housing protections around the planned Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park were allowed to make their way up to the mayor’s office on the fifth floor of City Hall.

And even before the pandemic closed City Hall to the public, she posted officers at lobby lecterns to screen people before they got on the elevators.

For the first time in recent memory, Chicago police also started enforcing an ordinance prohibiting neighborhood demonstrations, even peaceful ones.

The mandate empowered officers guarding the mayor’s house to keep demonstrators off the mayor’s block and arrest anyone who refused to disperse.

Through it all, a defiant Lightfoot said the heavy police presence outside her home, at a time when police officers were stretched to the limit, was justified by “specific threats” made “every single day” to “my person, my wife and my home.”

“I’m gonna do everything to make sure that they are protected. I make no apologies whatsoever for that,” she said then.

“I’ve talk to my fellow mayors across the country and, seeing the kind of things that have been done to them and their family members, I’m not gonna have that happen. That’s not what my wife and my child signed up for. It’s not what my neighbors signed up for. We have a right in our home to live in peace.”

James Smith (center-left), a retired deputy U.S. marshal and head of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s security detail, watches as Lightfoot shakes hands with supporters after a press conference in the Ellis Park fieldhouse in May 2019.

James Smith (left), a retired deputy U.S. marshal and head of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s security detail, watches as Lightfoot shakes hands with supporters after a news conference in the Ellis Park field house in May 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Lightfoot’s security obsession was not unfounded.

During her tenure, a man apparently angered by parking tickets, was accused of stalking Lightfoot and firing a gun in an alley near her home. Another man was arrested for sending her threatening letters.

The level of security maintained by former mayors is almost always an issue during any transition of power.

In 2011, then newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut in half — from six active-duty Chicago Police officers to three — the bodyguard detail that accompanied former Mayor Richard M. Daley into retirement. Emanuel also cut the security assigned to now-retired and indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th) in half — from four active-duty police officers to two retired ones.

Eight years later, Lightfoot made the decision to continue taxpayer-funded bodyguards for both Daley and Emanuel after conducting a “security threat assessment” for both. But she stripped the detail and car from Emanuel’s wife, Amy, without notice to the former mayor.

Similar threat assessments for City Clerk Anna Valencia and City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin led to their details being pulled.


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