CHICAGO (CBS) — Business owners on State Street have hired two armed security guards to patrol the popular Loop shopping district, in an effort to help police tamp down on shoplifting and aggressive panhandling.

The Chicago Loop Alliance, an advocacy group for more than 250 downtown businesses, said the guards were hired at the request of downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) and several businesses who wanted faster police responses.

Loop Alliance President Michael Edwards said the guards were hired as a deterrent for criminals and to make businesses feel safe; not necessarily because of an uptick in crime.

A pair of private security guards has been hired to patrol State Street to help police protect downtown businesses. (Credit: Chicago Loop Alliance)

Edwards said the guards will help improve response times to petty crimes like shoplifting and aggressive panhandling, which typically aren’t a high priority for Chicago police officers downtown, especially during busy summer festivals, Bears games, protests, and other major events.

“We often get calls from our businesses, ‘Hey, I’ve got somebody that’s loitering in my place,’ or ‘There’s some kids in here stealing stuff,’” he said. “What we have found is that they can contact the police, but the Chicago police have so much to do in the Loop that it’s not a high priority for them, and we totally get that. So this is a way to sort of fill that gap.”

A pair of guards began making their rounds on Thursday, walking the beat from Congress Parkway to Wacker Drive. They will patrol State Street for eight hours on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, during the busiest times for shoppers and tourists.

The guards’ hours will increase in May, as State Street gets busier during the summer.

The guards wear uniforms and badges, but not police uniforms. They also will carry firearms, and can detain or hold a person until police arrive, but don’t have the power to make arrests.