By David Lepeska
September 9, 2011, NY Times
As the city prepares to host two international summits next year, and with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaching, the Chicago Police Department is creating a counterterrorism unit, which will bolster security and incorporate lessons from academic research and from New York City’s counterterrorism tactics.
The threat of terrorism is a real concern for Chicago officials, with world leaders expected at both the Group of Eight and NATO summits here next year. The city has been home to violent extremists and the target of terrorist plots: David C. Headley of Chicago helped to plan the deadly November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, and documents taken from Osama bin Laden’s compound in May included plans to attack the city.
Last month, the police department quietly started the counterterrorism unit, which is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year,. The move is the brainchild of Garry McCarthy, the city’s new police superintendent, who was in New York with Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani on Sept. 11, 2001, and later helped develop the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism strategy.
Mr. McCarthy intends to bring various counterterrorism functions under a single unit, a spokesman for the department said. The new unit will also act on intelligence from the regional Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Mr. McCarthy hopes to take a page from New York’s innovative program, though on a smaller scale. The New York Police Department has more than 1,000 officers working on terrorism, with detectives in foreign cities and with officers who speak Pashto, Arabic and other languages monitoring communication channels. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he had added nearly 750 additional officers, yet the department still has 700 fewer officers than five years ago, according to city records.
A 2008 report from the RAND Corporation, a policy institute, said local police were the most effective units in fighting terrorism because their relations with local Muslim communities could enable them to gain information and foster cooperation.
Muslims in Chicago seem willing to work with the police and to help avoid early mistakes that could undermine the new unit’s efforts. Muslims for a Safe America, a Chicago group led by Kamran Memon, seeks to address tensions within Muslim communities about American policies in this country and abroad. And the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest advocacy group for American Muslims, is active here.
The city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication is spearheading security planning for the NATO and G8 summits, scheduled for May 15-22, and the new Chicago Police Department counterterrorism unit is likely to play a key role. Antiwar activists have already called for protests during the gatherings, and the police department has begun training thousands of officers in tactics for mass arrests and containment.