Security tightened for Bud Billiken parade

Amid heightened concern over a recent surge in homicides and a fatal shooting at the Taste of Chicago, Chicago Police yesterday outlined a plan for increased security at Saturday's Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic on the  South Side.

The parade, one of the largest in the country, began as a local newspaper founder's efforts to do something for the children who sold the paper and has evolved into a family-centered celebration of the African American community.

At a press conference called to discuss security for the event, Superintendent Jody Weis and parade officials said the event will include more officers, more barricades, and more restrictions on vendors. More than 1.2 million are expected to attend the event, police said.

But Weis, who faced criticism from aldermen last month over rising violence and the fatal shooting outside the Taste of Chicago during the Fourth of July weekend, cautioned reporters against reading too much into recent reports of a homicide surge in July.

"I always get nervous when people look at a real small amount of time," Weis said. "It did go up ... but you can't look at a 30-day period and make a lot of conclusions. I just don't think that's a prudent thing to do."

Weis says the department's safeguards are simply in keeping with the number of people expected and not due to any particular security concerns.

"Of course there is a concern whenever you have 1.2, 1.3 million people," he said. "We have to be prepared, and if we have folks walking around the crowd and we have other officers on duty, we think that will be a strong deterrent for any kind of foolishness that might take place."

Eugene Scott, president of Chicago Defender Charities, which organizes the 79-year-old event, says organizers are supplementing the police department's efforts with 300 marshals, including many off-duty cops.

Scott also said entertainment in the park will be limited this year. In 2003, the performance group B2K put on a concert in the park that led to some trouble with rowdy teenagers, he said.

"We sort of de-escalated the entertainment this year," Scott said. "This gives us better control of the activities in the park. Sometimes with entertainment it can be a little bit out of control."

For much of the parade route, which travels south on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive between 39th Street and Morgan Drive, interlocking metal barricades will be placed on both sides of the street to hold crowds to the sidewalk. Vendors will also be restricted from the route and confined to the picnic area in Washington Park.

"We are hoping this will enhance the control, decorum and security of the parade itself," Scott said.

The parade begins at 10 a.m. Saturday.