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City to boost undercover officers at upcoming Taste of Chicago

Fire Commissioner Robert Huff left Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy Office Emergency Management   Communications Director Gary Schenkel arrive talk

Fire Commissioner Robert Huff, left, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Office of Emergency Management & Communications Director Gary Schenkel arrive to talk to the media about security measures for Taste of Chicago, Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at Buckingham Fountain. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 22, 2011 2:11AM

The city plans to increase the number of undercover officers patrolling the upcoming Taste of Chicago to head off problems before they start, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy announced Tuesday.

The move comes in the wake of recent mob attacks downtown — and the possibility that roving groups of young men could head to the Taste — which runs Friday through July 3.

“We’re deploying the same number of uniformed officers we’ve used in the past, [but] we’re deploying more undercover officers,’’ McCarthy said at a news conference at Buckingham Fountain. “We’re not going to tell you the numbers [of officers] because that would be imprudent for us to do that.”

Officials say the undercover cops can work the crowds to keep an eye on problems or simmering issues that could boil over.

Sources said 40 probationary police officers will be reassigned from Michigan Avenue to the Taste on Thursday. The officers-in-training — who have completed two of their three required training periods in police districts after graduating from the police academy — had been assigned to Michigan Avenue in wake of the high-profile mob attacks. The reassignment raises questions about who, if anybody, will take their place on Michigan Avenue.

“They’re out to give people the illusion that there are a lot of police officers on Michigan Avenue,” said an 18th District police officer, who asked to remain anonymous. “They don’t even have enough radios for these guys.”

Asked whether Michigan Avenue was losing its beefed up police presence, McCarthy declined to talk specifics, but he said: “We’re going to be covering everything, that’s what it boils down to.”

To help keep an eye on the crowds, a police helicopter will be in the air and “covert video surveillance” — also used in past years — will help law enforcement deploy officers quickly to problem areas and later aid in prosecuting crimes, he said.

In addition to police, a private firm, SMG Security, has been hired by the new Taste managers — the Chicago Park District — to help police the event, parks spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said.

Organizers say the Taste will start at 11 a.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. daily — 30 minutes earlier than past years. The exception is the final day, July 3, when the event closes at 6 p.m.

Acknowledging past years’ problems in downtown Chicago after the fest shuts down for the day, police are also keeping an eye on the Taste perimeter. “We have a plan to provide a safe corridor both in and out,” McCarthy said. “We’re going to have officers posted in between the transportation hubs, at the transportation hubs, on the transportation hubs and in and out of the actual event itself.”

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