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More Undercover Officers To Patrol Taste Of Chicago

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A Chicago police officer walks through the crowd at the Taste Of Chicago in 2010. (Credit: CBS)

A Chicago police officer walks through the crowd at the Taste Of Chicago in 2010. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 06/21/11 6:42 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — When this year’s Taste of Chicago opens its 10-day run Friday, officials are promising both fun and a safer atmosphere.

As CBS 2’s Jay Levine explains, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy is promising more plainclothes officers and video surveillance of the Taste grounds, in addition to a contingent of uniformed officers equal to recent years.

The stepped-up video surveillance can help deploy teams of officers to trouble spots more quickly, and McCarthy said the video also can be held for use in prosecutions.

McCarthy said the protection won’t end at the gates to Taste. In response to recent mob attacks downtown, he said police will set up “safe corridors” to and from the food and music festival.

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“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,” he said.

He repeatedly refused, under questioning by reporters at a news conference at Buckingham Fountain, to give specifics about the numbers of officers to be deployed, saying that to do so would be “imprudent.”

“We’re going to be covering everything, that’s what it boils down to,” he said.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine was with McCarthy when he recently toured the Taste layout and began formulating the plan several weeks ago. During that tour, McCarthy was focused on Buckingham Fountain, where a lot of gang-related fights have broken out.

McCarthy said the recent Chicago Blues Festival was a dry run for Taste of Chicago security, and said incidents were minimal and that no arrests occurred.

The Park District is overseeing Taste of Chicago for the first time. It took control of the festival from the Mayor’s Office of Special Events in February.

Park District officials promise an emphasis on family fun, with a focal point being a “playground” complete with a 30-foot-square sandbox–large enough for kids and big kids.

McCarthy, Park District officials and Office of Emergency Management and Communications Director Gary Schenkel said firmly that Taste will close nightly at 8:30 p.m., except on July 3, when it will close at 6 p.m., preceded by a 3 p.m. Disney spectacular at the Petrillo Music Shell.

Taste was marred in 2008 and 2009 by incidents of violence. In 2008, four people were shut, one fatally, as the crowd that had viewed the July 3 fireworks show dispersed.

The city canceled the July 3 fireworks last year, citing financial problems. This year, there will be 15-minute fireworks shows at Navy Pier July 2 and July 4, sponsored by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which operates the Pier.

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