Are there enough cops for Pride, Market Days?

Organizers say yes ... but mostly because crowds are smaller than you might think.

June 28, 2013

Updated 12:00 a.m.

Given the recent Supreme Court ruling overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, many are expecting a record turnout for the Annual Gay Pride Parade this Sunday in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Prediction: There’s going to be a lot of revelry (there always is), but in the run up to the event, there are questions about how much street crime could occur over the weekend, and what’s being done to prevent it.

And those questions are raised as a handful of stabbings tainted last weekend’s Pride Fest, a street festival that once ran in tandem with the Annual Gay Pride Parade. In one case, a person was found stabbed early Sunday morning just north of the fest area. Also, two people were attacked at the Belmont Red Line “L” station while trying to detain an alleged cellphone thief.

The following Monday, many took to the neighborhood's streets to celebrate the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup. Several storefronts had their windows broken.

A neighborhood blog crimeinboystown noted the incidents, though the sourcing (unnamed witnesses and local scanner broadcasts) is sketchy.

Still, the numbers suggest the area’s become a magnet for thefts and robberies and, at times, aggravated battery with a weapon as well.

Earlier this year, we looked at the crime stats in Lakeview — just as Chicago police had rolled out the “Entertainment Detail,” a re-organized patrol designed to watch the city’s nightspots during weekends and nights. Our analysis suggested decreases in some Wrigleyville/Boystown crimes, but sharp increases in robberies — due in part to smartphone thefts.

While a lot of ire has been raised in recent years about aggravated batteries in the area (particularly stabbings), none of the incidents resulted in a homicide during the event. And the community ranks among those with the least homicides in the city, averaging 0-3 annually.

What goes into security planning

When interviewed in February, Cmdr. Elias Voulgaris said the focus of the Entertainment was on violent crimes, he said, particularly muggings. He added that violent crime could be cut by clamping down on public drinking and urination.

"It all comes down to quality of life issues. [People] have to respect the residents and cut down on public drinking, urination and damage to property," he said.

The city recently doubled the fines from $500 to $1,000 for drinking within 200 feet of a parade route.

Hank Zemola is the CEO of Chicago Special Events Management, which has run many of the city’s events since 1988.

When asked about the crime incidents following Pride Fest, he said they had worked with the city, aldermen and community members to make sure the neighborhood is adequately patrolled by Chicago police officers and private security, many of which, are off-duty police officers.

“There’s a lot of forethought and development and historic information that goes into how they’re deployed,” he said referring to policing plans during and after events.

Zemola’s company is hired on behalf of neighborhood and business groups. His events roster includes Lincoln Park Arts & Music Festival, Northalsted Market Days, Taste of Greektown and Oktoberfest, to name a few.

When asked about whether the city and the groups had enough police to adequately provide security for events, he said they did and that events were staffed according to expected crowd size.

So, how big are the Lakeview crowds?

Zemola and others are required to submit crowd estimates of an event such as a street fair to get the necessary permits. For parades, such as the upcoming Annual Gay Pride Parade, organizers have to submit the number of participants and a route.

The Chicago Pride Parade is now on its 43rd year, and has been organized every year by Chicago resident Richard Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer said the estimates were done by the Chicago Police Department.

He said it was the police that came up with the 850,000 number from 2012. "The police are primarily in charge of crowd control [for parades]," he said.

Regardless, he's still expecting a big turnout because of the recent High Court ruling and how Illinois lawmakers punted on passing same-sex marriage before the legislative session ended.

"Well, I think you're going to have more people here, because two things happened in the last month. Illinois state did not pass same-sex marriage and there was a little disappointment at that point and a little anger by some people. But now with DOMA there's more of an up feeling," Pfeiffer said.

"So the parade like all years will be a little bit political, a little bit social."

But the Pride Parade is not the only big draw for Lakeview.

Let’s look at Market Days. The high-profile street fest takes place in August and is touted as one of the largest in the Midwest. According to the festival’s sponsors, the Northalsted Business Alliance, the event is expected to attract over 100,000 people over two days. On the vendor registration site, the estimate is 150,000 people. These numbers would seem to gel with media accounts from previous years.

But they don’t seem to gel with the crowd estimates given to the city. The crowd estimate for the 2013 Market Days was listed as 35,000, which was also the estimate for the previous year.

So which number is right?

Zemola said the events require proof of insurance before they’re approved. Insurance companies use them to determine policy prices. To ensure those estimates are correct, the insurers will send auditors to count the crowd.

“They’re marketing numbers,” Zemola said.

At times, special event organizers have to dole out additional funds to the city if more police are required to monitor an event. Zemola strongly denied that planners intentionally underestimate numbers in order to avoid higher security costs.

“There’s no police cost by numbers,” he said. “There’s no reason to low-ball and there’s certainly no reason to high-ball.”

According to Zemola, they plan to hire 36 off duty police officers during Market Days in addition to Chicago Police. He said that after events, organizers will pay for private security to patrol the streets for those staying to patron the neighborhood’s bars.

Zemola said the marketing numbers can help attract people to an event as well as much-needed sponsors. He said that even the Pride Parade, which had crowd estimates of 850,000 last year probably had closer to 250,000 people.

“Those are crazy numbers,” he said. “Think of the population and physical space. It would be impossible to have those many people lined up and down the streets.”

On Friday, the mayor's office issued a release stating that over 2 million people attended the Blackhawks victory parade and rally downtown.

(Consider: The city’s population is estimated to be at 2.7 million people. A figure of 850,000 would indicate a crowd equal to nearly a third of the city’s population descended on a single neighborhood for single parade and a figure of 2 million would be more than 2/3rds the city's population.)

When asked about the disparity in the Market Days crowd numbers, the event sponsors say the numbers aren’t reflective of those in the area.

“The crowd numbers used in advertising materials reflect what we estimate is the total number of visitors over the course of the weekend to the neighborhood,” said Jennifer Gordon, spokesperson for the Northalsted Business Alliance, the group that sponsored Pride Fest and Market Days. The group hired Zemola’s company to plan and execute both events.

“[The estimate] includes people who shop, dine and visit service providers on the street outside of regular festival hours and those that visit the area businesses outside the footprint of the festival,” she said. “Sponsors value the benefit of being recognized beyond the borders of the festival by attracting the eyes of those visiting the neighborhood.”

Regardless of the numbers, the crowds for special events are still large, and almost always result in some type of crime. Whether that crime, regardless of level, is acceptable to residents or attendees remains to be seen.

In 2008, four people were shot at the Taste of Chicago. One of those victims died from his injuries. Since then, the event has been scaled back and beset by financial problems and dwindling attendance.

Zemola said it’s getting expensive for Chicago to put on events, especially as the city cuts back on subsidies and services, but is happy to tout the events as tourism draws.

2012 Pride weekend crime in Lakeview 
Source: Crime data from data.cityofchicago.org
MethodologyCrimes reflect incidents during the weekend of pride (Friday, June 22, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. - Monday, June 25, 2012 at 6:00 a.m.) The times and dates were chosen to reflect increased tourism and bar-crowds to the neighborhood during the whole weekend, particularly in the late to morning hours. 
Map: There were 133 total crimes for Lakeview during Pride weekend. The map displays ones to public safety and excludes burglaries, trespasses, fraud and others. The full list of crimes can be found here.
Route staging area--- Pride route ---Parade disbanding area
Batteries and assaultsThefts and robberiesDamage to propertySexual Assault

Chicago Pride Parade 2013 Permit by Chicago Public Media

NorthHalsted Market Days Permit by Chicago Public Media

Chicago Pride Fest Permit by Chicago Public Media

Elliott Ramos is a data reporter and Web producer for WBEZ. Follow him @ChicagoEl.