More than 70 Chicago police officers guard Democrat Mayor Lightfoot as part of unit created in 2020

Unit 544 was established at the height of the nationwide protest and riot movement following George Floyd death

Updated: March 29, 2022 - 1:12pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The Chicago Police Department has for the past two years provided Democrat Mayor Lori Lightfoot – who in 2020 proposed cutting the agency's budget by $80 million amid the "defund" movement – with a 71-member detail to protect her home and oversee her personal bodyguard detail.

The detail, known as Unit 544, started with a handful of officers and has now grown into a group that includes 65 officers, five sergeants, and a lieutenant, according to a Chicago Sun Times story Monday. 

In addition to the special unit, Lightfoot has an additional personal bodyguard detail, made up of roughly 20 officers.

In July of 2020, the height of the nationwide social justice protests, the city's police department sent a memo to officers inviting them to apply to the newly created unit:

"The unit's mission will be to provide physical security for City Hall, the mayor's residence and the mayor's detail command post," the memo reads. "Through the coordination of intelligence and resources, officers will respond to all threats related to the mayor's physical properties to ensure its protection."

At the time the unit was established, residents who live in the police district that includes the mayor's house complained that security there was being stretched too thin because patrol vehicles were being redirected to Lightfoot's residence where many protestors had gathered. 

In an interview with the Sun Times, Lightfoot said the establishment of Unit 544 was unrelated to criticism from her neighbors. 

"We thought, and this is way before the protests or anything else, it just didn’t make sense," she said it trying to why creating such a unit made sense. "Because, you know, if there was some kind of emergency at City Hall, for example, the right hand wouldn’t necessarily know what the left hand was doing because they all reported to different chains of command."

She also said: "Then obviously, in 2020 in particular, there were a significant amount of protests all over the city, and some of them targeted at my house. All the more reason why having a unified command to understand and share intelligence and be ready to respond if there was any kind of threat was very important."

In early September of 2020, Tom Cochran, the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, had warned of attacks on the homes of mayors in such cities as Portland, Oregon and San Jose, California, and increased threats to others. He encouraged Lightfoot, at that time, to consider ramping up personal security.

Lightfoot has said the proposed $80 million cut in October 2020 to the police department was the result of an overall, pandemic-related budget shortfall, not because she was bowing to the "defund the police" movement.

But she has continued to defend her use of the 71-personal security unit, in part blaming former President Trump.

"When the president of the United States uses the world’s largest megaphone and platform to target you personally, terrible things happen," she said. "And he not only blew a dog whistle, he pointed really evil and dangerous people right at my doorstep," she said.