Chicago, IL

New Chicago Mayor Significantly Decreases Lori Lightfoot's Security Detail

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

The former mayor has not commented on the change to her family's security
Photo byArvell Dorsey Jr/flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has recently made a significant change to the security measures at former Mayor Lori Lightfoot's Logan Square home. In an apparent effort to increase the number of police officers on the streets, Mayor Johnson has dramatically reduced the formidable bodyguard detail previously assigned to Lightfoot's residence.

While specific details about the reduction have not been disclosed to the public, law enforcement sources have acknowledged the decrease in Lightfoot's security detail. However, a police spokesperson declined to provide further information, citing concerns about potential threats to the former mayor's safety, given that she has already faced such incidents in the past.

According to a neighborhood resident who preferred to remain anonymous, the reduced security presence at Lightfoot's home was evident with only "one police car and a lot of empty parking spaces" outside the property on a recent Tuesday. The resident noted that this was the smallest police presence observed in years. Lightfoot herself declined to comment on the reduction.

During Lightfoot's tenure, the Chicago Police quietly established a specialized unit, known as Unit 544, responsible for protecting her home, City Hall, and overseeing her personal security detail. The unit, initially comprising a handful of officers, grew over time, with records showing that by March 21, 2022, it had expanded to include 65 officers, five sergeants, and a lieutenant. As of the current month, the unit had grown further to encompass 90 sworn officers, nearing its highest recorded level since its establishment.

In addition to the specialized unit, Lightfoot also had a separate personal bodyguard detail consisting of approximately 20 officers. Lightfoot had initially intended to continue using this detail even after her retirement from politics. She clarified that the decision to create Unit 544 was not influenced by criticism regarding police officers stationed near her home in the Shakespeare District.

Throughout her tenure, Lightfoot's home became a focal point for protesters. Consequently, she placed a greater emphasis on her security compared to previous mayors. Prior to assuming office, Lightfoot appointed retired U.S. Marshal Jim Smith to lead her bodyguard detail, a role traditionally held by Chicago police officers. Smith was given authority over all the officers guarding City Hall and Lightfoot's home.

Lightfoot took various measures to enhance security, such as reassigning the head of the City Hall police detail following a protest where demonstrators demanding affordable housing protections near the planned Obama Presidential Center gained access to the mayor's office. The pandemic further prompted the posting of officers at lobby lecterns to screen individuals before they entered the elevators. Additionally, Chicago police began enforcing an ordinance that prohibited neighborhood demonstrations, even peaceful ones.

Lightfoot justified the heavy police presence outside her home by stating that she received "specific threats" directed at herself, her wife, and her home on a daily basis. She emphasized her commitment to ensuring their safety and defended the need for heightened security measures.

It is customary for the level of security provided to former mayors to be scrutinized during transitions of power. In the past, similar reductions were made when Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut the bodyguard detail for former Mayor Richard M. Daley and Alderman Edward Burke, and Lightfoot herself conducted security threat assessments for various individuals in public office, leading to adjustments in their security details.

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