Illinois State Police documents show that the agency frequently assigns troopers to escort sports teams, musicians and even filmmakers across the congested roadways of greater Chicago.
But one notable journey wasn’t included in the pile of contracts — the police escorts provided to Bears kicker Cody Parkey so he could practice at Soldier Field.
The Tribune reported last month that Parkey received a police escort from Halas Hall to the stadium so he could practice in gamelike conditions. Illinois State Police wouldn’t comment on the trip, so the Tribune made a public records request for all police escort contracts in 2018.
The documents show that the Bears are frequent customers, hiring troopers who earn overtime to escort the team between Halas Hall and O’Hare International Airport on travel days. But there were no contracts covering Parkey’s Soldier Field outings.
State police said “unscheduled requests” such as Parkey’s trip are billed after the fact. Bears spokesman Brandon Faber said the team indeed paid for the service.
“The players have gone down there several times but only had a police escort on two occasions, both of which were paid for by the Bears to the state police,” he said.
Though critics have called police escorts for sports teams a frivolous and potentially dangerous use of public resources, state police defend them as a way to provide “safety and security for all those involved in the motorcade as well as for the motoring public.”
The contracts show that visiting NFL teams routinely receive police escorts to and from the airport, hotels and Soldier Field. The service costs $110 per trooper per hour, plus $40 per vehicle for fuel and maintenance.
All told, the teams usually pay state police just over $10,000 for a weekend in the city (the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and New England Patriots paid more because their owners got their own police escorts).
College football teams are also major customers: Northwestern University had a standing order for police escorts between its team hotel and Ryan Field on game days, and the University of Illinois paid for the service when it played at Soldier Field in September.
The Chicago Cubs are frequent recipients, too, spending $24,000 between July and September for the team and its opponents to be escorted to and from local airports or, for those headed north to play the Milwaukee Brewers, the Wisconsin state line.
No one, though, spent more than the Bears. The contracts list 23 trips between Halas Hall and O’Hare from August to December at a cost of more than $68,000.
State police policy says the agency will provide escorts for oversized vehicles, military vehicles transporting weapons and commercial vehicles carrying radioactive material. All other escorts must be approved, though sports teams don’t appear to have much trouble getting permission.
Two college football teams — the University of Toledo and the University of Utah — got escorts to go from their hotel in Lisle to Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. International rugby teams and women’s soccer teams got them when they came to the area for matches, as did Loyola University Chicago’s men’s basketball team when it returned to campus from the Final Four.
State troopers squired Manchester City to and fro over five days when the English soccer juggernaut visited Chicago for an exhibition game in July. But its opponent, German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund, appears to have gone without; state police provided no contract for the team.
The contracts show that two nonsports recipients received police escorts. One was Chicago film production company Sparrow Grass, which in June paid for troopers to “escort the production crew during filming in Markham” (company representatives did not return messages seeking comment).
The other was musician Jimmy Buffett, whose tour buses were shepherded between the Peninsula Hotel and Wrigley Field when he came to town for a July concert.
Police escorts are not a risk-free endeavor. The city of Minneapolis stopped providing the service to sports teams in 2014 when a squad car in the motorcade lost control, causing one bus carrying members of the Washington Redskins to crash into another. A player reportedly missed the game with back spasms, and the city later paid a $237,000 settlement to the bus company and an insurer.
In 2016, a motorcycle officer in California was injured when he crashed during a pre-Super Bowl police escort of the Denver Broncos.
“According to several Broncos who were on the buses, the police escort came up on some traffic when the driver of a white car ahead seemed to panic and stop, rather than pull off to the side,” USA Today reported.
Illinois State Police policy on escorts recognizes the potential for danger in one respect: It strongly discourages troopers from escorting civilian vehicles during a medical emergency.
“Due to the extreme hazard not only to the escorting officer, but also to the occupants of the escorted vehicle and other members of the public, officers will normally decline requests for such escorts,” it says.