For years, Steve Georgas was the Chicago Police Department’s strategist for keeping big demonstrations safe and preventing terrorist attacks at stadiums and public spaces like McCormick Place.
So it puzzled some City Hall insiders that Chicago went through a full day of looting and mayhem on May 30 before Georgas was tapped the following day to help with the department’s response to the protests.
Georgas — who’s credited with coming up with the strategy for the police response to the mostly peaceful protests during the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago — said Tuesday that he was called in to help “settle the ship” on May 31.
“I’ve done it so many times. I knew the ins and outs of how we needed things,” Georgas said in an interview. “For example, we needed to quickly get our hands on 150 rental vans to put us in a better position to win, to be more flexible, more nimble, more agile, to address the little things versus the big things.
“I had a lot of experience in doing this multiple times — how do you mobilize an entire department with days off, some of the logistical things that maybe some people just don’t have the experience with.”
It turned out to be Georgas’ last crisis to help manage. On Monday, he retired from the police department after more than 28 years.
Then, on Tuesday, Anthony Riccio, the department’s No. 2 official, told rank-and-file officers he plans to retire on Aug. 1, remaining as first deputy superintendent till then.
The retirement plans for both were in the works before the recent protests, sources said.
Last week, Riccio, who’s been with the department nearly 34 years, criticized officers who were shown on a security video lounging and sleeping early June 1 in U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush’s South Side office, where looters had destroyed adjacent businesses.
“I’m the first one to jump up and defend officers,” Riccio said. “When they’re improperly accused, I will defend them 100 percent of the time, and they know it. This is indefensible.”
Georgas, 50, who said he plans to spend more time with his family before deciding on his next career move, joined the department in 1991, when the number of murders was skyrocketing amid the crack-cocaine epidemic.
The highlight of his career, he said, was helping run the now-defunct Targeted Response Unit, a citywide unit formed in 2003 to saturate high-crime areas with cops.
He said his darkest moment was in 2018, when Cmdr. Paul Bauer, a close friend, was shot to death downtown after chasing down a man other officers had said appeared suspicious.
Georgas was commander of the Near North District and deputy chief of the department’s specialized units — everything from the marine and helicopter unit to SWAT. He oversaw the police department’s handling of the Chicago Marathon, the Cubs’ and Blackhawks’ championship rallies, political demonstrations and hundreds of visits by U.S. presidents and foreign heads of state.
In 2016, he became chief security officer for Navy Pier and McCormick Place. Some insiders said he was being mothballed by a new police administration. According to Georgas, it was a chance to try something new.
But on May 31, city officials decided they needed his expertise in dealing with big crowds after demonstrations in Chicago over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd got out of hand.
Georgas said “instigators,” many from outside Chicago, were communicating through advanced social networks to orchestrate criminal activity. He said they had access to far more advanced technology than protesters had during the NATO Summit.
The Fraternal Order of Police and former police Supt. Garry McCarthy have blasted Mayor Lori Lightfoot for what they called a slow and timid reaction to the growing violence across the city that weekend. Hundreds of officers were injured in the looting and rioting, according to the mayor’s critics, including union president John Catanzara, who said there was a “lack of a plan.” McCarthy said there was “complete disorganization” in the early response to the violence.
The mayor has defended the city’s response to the unrest. Looting had spread through the South Side and West Side in a way that would have overwhelmed a police department of any size, Lightfoot has said.
Georgas said he hopes the city never sees riots like that again.
“I tell the cops all the time the greatest thing is you’re protecting somebody who’s exercising their First Amendment right to protest against the uniform you wear,” Georgas said. “That’s really what this country was founded on, right? But, that being said, you still have to be prepared to handle those criminal elements that want to use those large groups for their own criminal actions.”