Lollapalooza leaders confident of security in wake of Highland Park shooting
Less than a month after a gunman climbed a fire escape and positioned himself on a rooftop to fire rifle rounds into a mass of Independence Day paradegoers below in Highland Park, Chicago officials said they are confident they can keep one of the city’s largest festivals safe this weekend.
Lollapalooza starts Thursday in Grant Park, showcasing more than 170 acts and hosting hundreds of thousands of people. Rich Guidice, executive director of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said the city has been developing and building on its security plans around the festival since it started being held here in 2005, and this year was no different in the wake of Highland Park.
“We, this group that is part of putting together Lollapalooza, reviewed the Highland Park incident, and that’s typically what we do (in) instances that take place across the country,” Guidice said. “We’ll review best practices on our end and see if there’s anything that we need to do to modify based on what we’re seeing around the country.”
Attacks like the one in Highland Park always spur fears of copycats, and it’s impossible to fully secure a festival the size of Lollapalooza in an open-air city park, experts have said.
Jose Colon, whose Headrest Barbershop faces Grant Park across Michigan Avenue, said the threat of violence at the mass gathering is on his mind after the Highland Park shooting.
“There’s no way to absolutely secure everybody’s safety,” he said. “Who’s to say that can’t happen again? … Anybody can rent a room, anybody can get in here. … The fear is always there.”
Mass shooting concerns around major outdoor events rose sharply after the 2017 shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas, an attack that killed dozens when a gunman fired bullets down from a high-rise hotel. And it was later discovered that the Las Vegas suspect, Stephen Paddock, had months earlier reserved two rooms at the Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Avenue with a clear view of Lollapalooza, but he never showed up during the August festival.
That year’s Lollapalooza had enhanced security as a result, which included more police officers, additional fencing, new bag restrictions and airport-style screening at the entrances of Grant Park.
During the recent Fourth of July shooting, Robert E. “Bobby” Crimo allegedly used his perch over the parade to kill seven and injure more than two dozen others. Police later found 83 spent shell casings and three 30-round magazines on the rooftop, police and prosecutors have said.
Days after the Highland Park shooting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Chicago spends “an enormous amount of time” on any large-scale event months ahead of time, and a lot of planning is focused on safety.
“It doesn’t get any more American, in my view, and an expression of who we are as a people, than the gathering in Highland Park,” Lightfoot said then. “It’s still with an extraordinarily heavy heart, not just in Highland Park but what happens on a daily basis here in Chicago, what we’ve seen in other tragedies recently.”
There are no known threats to Lollapalooza so far, Guidice said. Security plans include having a command post, hundreds of cameras, private EMS and more than 1,000 private security people on site.
“We have this event down to time frames when we know we’re going to get more impacted with more crowds and when we expect crowds to be developing in line,” Guidice said. “So we have it down to that level of detail for this event in particular.”
Helicopter surveillance is always part of the plan for an event such as Lollapalooza, Guidice said, giving police a clear view. The city has also relationships with nearby hotels and businesses along Michigan Avenue and have promoted training on reporting suspicious activity to them.
The OEMC is also in constant coordination with the CTA and Chicago police’s downtown districts, Guidice said. The city also works with federal partners such as the FBI.
Guidice did not give out information on how many Chicago officers will be monitoring the downtown districts. Chicago police referred all questions about Lollapalooza security to OEMC.
As in years past, the festival will screen attendees with an “airport-style search,” organizers wrote on the event’s website.
Guidice recommended that people be cognizant of their surroundings, even when the event closes, because there are potentially 100,000 people leaving at the same time.
The downtown area also has seen its share of high-profile violence this year, including the killing of a teenager near The Bean in Millennium Park. Lollapalooza tends to exacerbate downtown issues, some living and working nearby said.
“It makes our regulars uncomfortable,” said Colon, who runs the barber shop. “You’ve got the people that want to scam tourists. You got the people that want to rob tourists. You got the people that want to do harm to tourists.”
People have urinated on his barbershop’s glass door while he’s been cutting hair inside during past Lollapaloozas, he said. Last year, a fight over fake tickets ended with someone getting tackled through his shop’s window, Colon said.
When mayhem breaks out, there have been times when police did not cross the street from their posts along the well-protected festival gates and fences, he said. And the recent downtown issues including clashes between officers and agitated crowds have made him doubt whether authorities can control large, rowdy groups.
Residents living around Grant Park complained about the festival’s noise and shared similar safety concerns at a late-June public meeting hosted by Ald. Sophia King, 4th.
“There are elderly people in our building who can’t leave their apartments because the crowds downstairs are too crazy, they’re drunk,” Barbara Burgess said at the meeting.
Rosalyn Howard’s concerns are heightened this year because of recent nearby violence, she told King.
“Every year, we have an overflow of people that are urinating, defecating around our building. Throwing up, passing out, trying to come in the building. They go to the park across the street, pass out, and there are just droves of them,” Howard said.
The liquor-selling Lakeview Market across from Grant Park sees huge lines of customers during the festival, manager Harry Patel told the Tribune. There’s a bump in theft too.
“With the good people, the bad people take a chance,” he said.
Organizers for the festival did not answer questions about security and only responded with an emailed statement.
“The safety and well-being of our Lollapalooza fans, artists and staff is paramount,” the statement read. “We work with the city of Chicago year-round to develop detailed safety plans and protocols.”
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Guidice said the departure of people from the festival is another phase of the event and its planning, Guidice said, and residents and visitors alike need to be extra eyes and ears for each other and authorities.
“Continue to look out for each other,” Guidice said. “This is an international event and Chicago is certainly very proud of it and want to make sure Chicagoans are looking out for each other and our visitors coming to our city.”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could also pose a threat to the safety of guests. The festival required attendees to be fully vaccinated against the virus or provide negative test results last year, but dropped the requirements this year.
The Chicago Department of Public Health urged attendees to wear masks in public indoor spaces and to not attend if experiencing COVID-like symptoms.