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South Side Irish Parade Crackdown Could Also Result In Pride Parade Arrests

CHICAGO (STMW) -- Rowdy drunks would pay through the nose if they try again to take over a South Side Irish Parade that made a family-oriented comeback last year, thanks to a crackdown approved Wednesday that could lead to a rash of arrests at the Pride Parade.

At the behest of local Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th), the City Council agreed to throw the book at those caught drinking on the public way within 800 feet of any parade in progress in Chicago.

O'Shea's initial version called for cracking the whip within 200 feet of parades. The final version quadrupled that get-tough turf.

The minimum fine for adults would increase five-fold — from $100 to $500. The maximum fine would double — from $500 to $1,000. The alternative to the higher fines would be up to six months in jail.

Adults who relieve themselves in public within 200 feet of a parade in progress would face similar fines and from five to 10 days behind bars.

Minors caught drinking in the shadows of a parade would be slapped with $500 fines or required to perform 25 hours of community service.

The crackdown comes nearly one year after the South Side Irish parade made a triumphant return from a three-year hiatus caused by public drunkenness and arrests.

The parade committee spent heavily to rid the parade of its seedier elements. Private security was hired to work with Chicago Police, set up checkpoints, confiscate liquor and enforce a "zero-tolerance policy" for open alcohol.

Passengers were banned from bringing booze on Metra Rock Island trains. North Side bars were discouraged from chartering buses. Buses that did roll up were corralled into drop-off points. Leaflets were distributed to local residents outlining the new rules. A hotline number, with text-messaging support, was distributed to neighbors to report problems.

The result was a family-oriented event that celebrated Irish heritage in a way that resulted in only a handful of arrests hours after and blocks away from the parade.

Why the crackdown after all of that success?

"To make sure that a bad element doesn't come back to our neighborhood. To make sure this event stays a celebration of faith, family and heritage," O'Shea said.

"The South Side Irish Parade Committee was very aggressive last year in trying to prevent the parade from turning into what it was the last several years. . . . Along the parade route, all you saw were smiling faces and children and wagons and strollers," he said. "We want to do everything we can to make sure that's how it remains. I don't want to sit on my hands and trust that an element that ruined this parade [won't] come back. I'm a lot more comfortable now. Frankly, I'm looking forward to March 10."

Joe Connelly, co-chair of the 2013 South Side Irish Parade Committee, pushed for the safeguards.

"We worked so hard last year to bring the parade back in a safe and family-friendly way," Connelly said. "We want to make sure we take no steps backward. . . . We don't want to take any chances seeing that happen. This ordinance further reinforces the type of parade we plan to have for the neighborhood."

Because the crackdown applies to all parades, it could trigger a flurry of arrests at the annual Pride Parade, where public drinking also has been a problem.

But local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said he's fine with that. He supported the get-tough policy.

"Police have got to do their job and manage these parades. Raising the fines? I'm OK with that. I want to make sure it's safe for everyone," Tunney said.

"The South Side parade is quite a bit different from ours. . . . The number of arrests are pretty low . . . The combination of Wrigley, Gay Pride, Halsted Street — our commanders are well-versed. They're using common sense. They now have a tougher penalty for enforcement when they decide that it's in the best interest of public safety to get these people arrested."

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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