Naperville shop owner calls for better police protection
Naperville police are hearing criticism from at least one angry business owner who says officers should have done more to protect his shop and others from vandalism, looting and the threat of robbery during a recent protest.
Liquor store owner Basim Esmail, a longtime critic of Naperville police and city government, is voicing concerns that police did not do enough to patrol, protect and respond to vulnerable shops, especially when a protest June 1 turned destructive in downtown and spread elsewhere.
That day, Esmail said, he called police and city officials seeking help and warning them his store, Extra Value Liquors, could be a "potential prime target" for thieves.
"They assured me there would be patrols up and down Route 59 and I would get help," Esmail said. "We never saw a single patrol car that day."
Esmail said several customers later helped defend his store from a crowd he feared intended to steal from his shelves. Esmail said he and his dog, a pit bull mix, protected his store overnight for seven nights in a row beginning June 1, while he was armed with baseball bats and steel pipes.
Naperville police Chief Robert Marshall said if Esmail has security footage of the crowd outside the store, he wants to see it. Marshall said he would be happy to have officers investigate to try to locate any offenders.
Esmail said he does not have outdoor security footage; his 16 cameras are focused inside the store.
"Why can't we get police help when we feel threatened and about to get looted?" Esmail said.
Marshall said officers on June 1 were up against a crowd of 300 to 400 people downtown, some of whom intended to cause harm. Some threw bricks, bottles, rocks and even explosive devices at police and storefronts, and 30 stores were looted or vandalized.
Marshall and Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said the threat of looting and violence across the region limited the help Naperville police received from neighboring departments, which typically provide mutual aid. State police and National Guard forces largely were stationed in Chicago early in the evening on June 1, Chirico said.
"That left Naperville with our police force, which is a great police force, but it's not built to handle those types of events by itself," Chirico said.
With so much focus on protecting downtown, Chirico said, the rest of Naperville's on-duty force was "stretched thin," and some business operators were scared their shops could be attacked.
"They did the best they could, the beat officers, to continue to be on their beat," he said.
Marshall said officers did continue patrols outside of downtown and even responded to a gun shop when it was burglarized twice, resulting in four arrests.
Esmail called the police response "a massive failure" and said officers could have split up into smaller groups to better protect more businesses, such as jewelry stores, from looting.
Marshall said he wishes police could have prevented all damage, but that simply wasn't possible given the size of the crowd and the criminal element.
"Our officers bravely and courageously did exactly what I asked them to do," Marshall said, "to preserve life."