Chicago Plans To Hire Private Security Guards To Help Prevent Looting

Looted Potbelly
A view into a looted Potbelly's shop on South Wabash Avenue in downtown Chicago. Marc Monaghan / WBEZ
Looted Potbelly
A view into a looted Potbelly's shop on South Wabash Avenue in downtown Chicago. Marc Monaghan / WBEZ

Chicago Plans To Hire Private Security Guards To Help Prevent Looting

The city of Chicago is hiring three private security firms — including one with political connections and a controversial past — to provide guards to protect businesses after widespread looting last week.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said in a news release Saturday that the city is hiring Monterrey Security, Illinois Security Professionals and AGB Investigative Services to provide “more than” 100 guards “to protect the local retail shops, grocery stores and pharmacies that community members rely on every single day.” The release was not more specific about the number of guards that would be deployed.

On Friday night, Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st Ward) tweeted that aldermen had been informed that “the mayor has contracted for five hundred private security officers this weekend.” La Spata could not be reached Saturday for comment about the city’s announcement.

The city’s release said the guards will be unarmed and will not have policing powers, only serving as “another set of eyes and ears to support efforts to deter looters.” Their job is to “monitor activity on commercial corridors and notify the Chicago Police Department if any illegal activity occurs,” according to the city’s release. The guards will wear visible identification, the city said.

Chicago has set aside $1.2 million for security providers through an emergency procurement process. But the release said the final costs “will be determined by the personnel and resources utilized on an as-needed basis this weekend.”

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) said he found out about the contract late Friday. He expressed concern about the guards and where the money is coming from.

“How are these – I can’t even call them officers – how are they identifying themselves? How do we know if they’ve done anything and how they are held accountable?” he said. “So there’s just a lot of concerns and because we don’t have any of the information and we don’t get it regularly, it’s hard to even make a determination and all you’re left to do is question those calls.”

To Vasquez, Monterrey’s track record only makes the decision more suspect.

Monterrey’s lobbyist is Reyahd Kazmi, husband of Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia. Monterrey CEO and former Chicago police officer Juan Gaytan founded the firm with Chicago firefighter Santiago Solis, younger brother of former Ald. Danny Solis (25th Ward).

Monterrey has faced criticism for controversial City Hall contracts, a police misconduct case and a man’s death outside a Chicago Walmart.

A Chicago Tribune investigation of the company in 2002 found that Gaytan quit his job as a police officer after allegedly threatening to shoot a citizen during a 1994 arrest. Before Gaytan quit, then-Police Superintendent Terry Hillard recommended he be fired, according to the Tribune.

Monterrey operated without a required license for 21 months after its founding, the Tribune investigation found. Gaytan told authorities that Monterrey didn’t need a license as “security consultants,” when it was in fact supplying security guards. Though that made Monterrey ineligible for contracts, the Tribune reported, the city gave the company a $2.9 million deal.

Two Monterrey workers were accused of being involved in a scheme to sell access to Soldier Field to plainclothes police officers, the Sun-Times reported. The incident raised questions about Monterrey and security at the stadium.

In 2017, Donnell Burns died after a Monterrey guard kneeled on his neck outside a Northwest Side Walmart, the Tribune reported.

Monterrey said in a statement Saturday that it’s “in full compliance with all local and state ordinances and remains fully certified by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Our policies and procedures exceed state requirements and have been thoroughly vetted by agencies in multiple states, as well as independent auditors.”

The company also said that it’s proud to partner with other minority-owned firms to support Chicago police, protect retailers and protesters.

According to the city’s procurement website, Monterrey got a deal in May to perform “unarmed security guard services for COVID-19 locations.” The $290,000 contract is good through June.

The ACLU of Illinois said Saturday it’s concerned about the use of private security companies in response to local unrest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“It’s especially concerning that it comes at the end of a week in which we’ve seen several videos that show police officers that have a line of command or rules of engagement, violently attacking or harassing protestors,” ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said. “What does that look like when you move from sworn officers to private security guards?”

Vivian McCall is a news intern at WBEZ. Follow her @MVivianMcCall.