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Security dramatically beefed up as summer season begins on downtown Riverwalk

The Chicago Riverwalk under the the Franklin Street bridge. | Sun-Times file photo

Six dedicated Chicago Police officers will join private security in patrolling the downtown Riverwalk during the summer season to enforce an 11 p.m. curfew that was ignored last year, triggering an alarming summer shooting.

Fleet and Facilities Management Commissioner David Reynolds said the six Central District officers will patrol the 1.25-mile walkway, from Lake Shore Drive to Lake Street, from 2 p.m. to 1 a.m.

“It’ll be the same six officers so the vendors will get used to them. A couple will be on bicycles. Others will be on foot,” Reynolds said.

“They will make sure that the vendors all close up fine and there’s no issues after hours. They’ll also make sure that if there’s anyone down here after hours, that we rush them off. … When the beer cruises all get out and drop people off, they want to be here to make sure that those people disperse.”

Chicago Police will be joined by a Fleet and Facilities Management security officer working “half-shifts” and by officers from Titan Security, the sub-contractor hired by property and concession manager MB Real Estate Services.

“We had contract security before, but we beefed it up. We now have five zones. One in each zone, plus a supervisor who wanders back and forth. They are 24/7,” Reynolds said.

“Based on the day of the week, the crowds they expect, the vendors may have one or two security guards of their own that will be more like bouncers, for lack of a better term.”

Fleet and Facilities Management has also established a 24-hour hotline number for vendors to call in the event there is a security issue of any kind.

Rahm Emanuel fishing on Riverwalk

Mayor Rahm Emanuel joins some children fishing along the Chicago Riverwalk on Wednesday morning, where he attended a news conference announcing security upgrades and summer programming on the walkway. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

“First of all, they should call 911. Immediately afterwards, if they call our security number, we can coordinate a response rather than them worrying about, `Should I call the property manager? No. Call this number and we’ll get it taken care of,” Reynolds said.

The shocking riverwalk shooting happened last June, at 2 a.m. on a Sunday. Two men, ages 28 and 30, were involved in an argument near Wacker and Dearborn when shots rang out.

The next day, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said the Riverwalk shooting stemmed from “a dispute about a girl” and happened when the popular attraction was officially closed. The superintendent also said more needed to be done to ensure an 11 p.m. curfew was being rigidly enforced.

Reynolds acknowledged the summer shooting was a wake-up call.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel completed the Riverwalk with help from a $99 million federal construction loan.

But if random shootings prompt Chicagoans and tourists to stay away, City Hall could have a tough time generating the concession revenue needed to retire that federal loan.

“It could be chilling” if it happens again, Reynolds said.

“This is a very important thing for the mayor. It’s a very important thing for the city. It needs to be a place where people feel safe.”

Earlier this year, Chicago aldermen got an earful from noise-weary residents of riverfront high-rises, but still approved long-term concessions that will allow eight entertainment-oriented businesses to set up shop along the Riverwalk.

Reynolds responded by promising more vigilant monitoring of noise complaints, with security officers armed with handheld monitors dispatched to the balconies of high-rise residents who call a city hot-line.

Rahm Emanuel fishing on Riverwalk

Mayor Rahm Emanuel joins some children fishing along the Chicago Riverwalk on Wednesday morning. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

On Wednesday, Reynolds said he’s already on the case.

Although there’s a 60-decibel limit and an 8:30 p.m. cut-off time for live music, he’s imposing a 50-decibel limit and strongly encouraging vendors to stop live music at 8 p.m.

“We’ve actually got little stickers printed that we stuck on the pavement and we take sound measurements,” Reynolds said.

“Given the attention that’s been paid to this, the vendors are on notice. They know this is not something they want to screw up.”

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) has threatened to “prohibit music period” if the noise concerns are not addressed. He’s got an ordinance to do just that sitting in committee.

Reynolds said he’s determined to “do all we can to make sure he never has to use that” death penalty ordinance.

“We’ve been working very closely with the citizen groups, with the alderman’s office so that, this season, it doesn’t even become an issue,” he said.

The summer programming preview will run from Friday through Sunday.

It’ll feature what Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Mark Kelly called an “extravaganza of music, art, architecture, fireworks and more.”

“These four bridges — starting from Dearborn to Franklin — at about 8:15 or 8:30 at dusk will be filled with a pyrotechnic waterfall, a glorious moment,” Kelly said.