Mobile Strike Force to replace dismantled SOS

'Squeeze on SWAT' to end, new CPD unit takes shape
October 7, 2008 2:58:28 PM PDT
On Halloween afternoon, the mask will be removed from a new Chicago Police special weapons and tactics unit intended to deal with the recent sharp rise in murders and gang violence. A top police department source says Oct. 31 is the date that officials plan to deploy Chicago's "Mobile Strike Force," also known as MSF.

The scheduled roll-out of the new unit will come one year to the day after an I-Team report revealed that police officials were shutting down Chicago's SWAT - Special Weapons and Tactics - section. We reported that then-superintendent Dana Starks had transferred at least 16 officers and support personnel to other department jobs.

The cutback left Chicago Police with fewer specially trained officers allocated to a SWAT unit than New York and Los Angeles and with fewer even than police departments in smaller cities, such as Houston, Philadelphia and Portland, Ore.

The No. 2 man in the Chicago Police Department said Tuesday "gangs are out of control" in the city of Chicago. It's one of the reasons his boss, Supt. Jody Weis, wants to bring back the special operations section.

Walk into almost any gathering spot in almost any high-crime neighborhood and ask just about anyone their opinion of the police and you'll hear sentiment similar to Jerry Kelly's.

"I think some of the police officers abuse their authority just like special operations," said Kelly, an Austin neighborhood resident.

The Special Operations Section was disbanded more than a year ago soon after prosecutors alleged some cops had become criminals. Some are awaiting trial on charges of robbing and even kidnapping city residents.

What's changed since then?

There's a murder rate up nearly 13 percent from this time a year ago. Plus, there's a department down nearly 400 uniformed officers.

"If you could assign the proper number there, you probably wouldn't need a group like SOS," said Ald. Isaac Carothers, Chicago Police & Fire Committee.

Police brass say bringing back an SOS-like team, albeit with a new name, is key to curtailing crime.

"They brought in a lot of arrests and good arrests and weapons off the street. If we can act on the good things SOS has done in the past, it'll be beneficial to citizens as a whole," said 1st Dpty. Supt. James Jackson, Chicago Police Department.

Kelly said he welcomes a strong police presence, to a point.

"It depends on the people you put in it. Some people just abuse things," he said.

Internal police memos distributed to district officials and reviewed by the I-Team Monday reveal that the newly minted MSF will be staffed by 131 sworn officers, including one commander, two lieutenants, 13 sergeants and 115 officers. An officer manager will also be assigned to the unit. The working plan is for 69 vehicles to be assigned to the strike force, all of them marked.

The MSF will also have access to a full array of armored vehicles, personal protection gear, high-velocity weaponry and mobile satellite communications equipment. Officers assigned to the squad will also respond to calls for tear gas to disperse unruly crowds.

Recruitment for the new, elite unit is underway. According to a police source "officers with five years" of street experience are being considered.

MSF will focus on drug and gang investigations and will coordinate activities primarily with two established Chicago Police units, The Narcotics and Gang Section (NAGIS) and the Targeted Response Unit (TRU.) Targeted Response squads are intended to flood crime hotspots in Chicago with officers and have been operating for several years. MSF may initially begin with officers assigned to afternoon and evening shifts, so that the most resources will be on the street during peak periods of violent crime.

The newly formed MSF will be headquartered on the third floor of the Homan Square police annex. That is the same office and staging facility as the old, disgraced "Special Operations Section" that was dismantled last year. Location isn't the only parallel between MSF and the controversial SOS. The marching orders are essentially the same, and many former SOS officers, those not under investigation for misconduct, are expected to staff the new unit.

On Monday, police spokeswoman Monique Bond told the ABC7 I-Team that the MSF plans are not final yet. Despite the memo that states Oct. 31 is the deployment date, Bond said officials "Don't have a date... still in the review stages, finalizing internal and external processes."


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