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Retail workers on State Street happy as armed guards begin patrol

Two armed private security guards, hired by the Chicago Loop Alliance, patrol State Street Thursday, their first day on the job. | Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times

Two armed guards began patrolling State Street downtown Thursday and retail employees along the thoroughfare were thrilled.

“There’s a lot of young people who come in and snatch and grab and run and people with mental problems who come in and go off on people and make a scene,” said the manager of an electronics store who didn’t want to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Some retailers along the busy business district said such instances are often a weekly, if not daily, occurrence.

“Their presence will probably dissuade people just with the intention of stealing from coming downtown to State Street,” said the manager of a clothing store who also didn’t want to be named.

The guards were hired by the Chicago Loop Alliance, which represents the interests of downtown business owners and has fielded numerous complaints about theft.

Their main task will be to help deter and catch shoplifters.

“The hope is the response time from security guards will be faster than police and we’ll be able to catch the people who are doing it,” said CLA spokeswoman Jessica Cabe.

Some of the guards — contracted though HLSA Security — will be off-duty police officers who will have arrest powers. Others can detain someone until police arrive.

The two armed private security guards hired by the Chicago Loop Alliance to patrol State Street in the Loop stop in a store on Thursday. | Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times

“We have communicated with the company that our preference is to have off-duty officers when staffing allows,” Cabe said.

The guards will patrol State Street between Congress and Wacker, Thursday though Saturday. Hours will vary: 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30-8:30 p.m. Thursdays; 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 6:30-10:30 p.m. Fridays; and 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays. Those hours are expected to increase in May.

They wear black uniforms and carry badges.

“I’m excited for it. Summer is the craziest time,” said Andrea Morales, who works at the Body Shop and in the past year has had several run-ins with “disruptive” people who come in and knock creams and lotions off shelves.

The CPD’s 1st District, which encompasses parts of downtown, “is an unusually large and busy district … which makes quick response to service difficult,” CLA President Michael Edwards said.

“We want to fill the gap with security guards,” he said. “The Loop is a very safe place but because it’s a retail district there’s a lot of in store theft.”

Two armed private security guards, hired by the Chicago Loop Alliance, leave a State Street store Thursday. |
Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times

A Chicago police officer who patrols the greater downtown area on a bike and stopped to chat for a moment Thursday said of the security detail: “I wish them luck. It’s not a joke out here. Tell them to be safe.”

The guards will also be tasked with handling situations that could “ruin the customer experience” — such as aggressive panhandling and loitering.

The contract to hire the security guards is worth $50,000 and runs through the end of the year.

The money will come from funds collected through a special tax levied on downtown businesses.

Julio Ramos, 22, of Englewood, stopped banging drum sticks on a bucket — trying to earn a few bucks — to share his thoughts.

“If you’re private security, you don’t answer to government officials,” Ramos said, questioning the accountability of the private guards.

“I barely feel safe, I get harassed by the police for doing this,” he said.

The CLA uses funds collected from the same tax to also employ a separate team of five “ambassadors” who wear neon jackets and also patrol the street but focus on cleaning, beautification, assisting tourists and connecting the homeless with social services.