Chicago SWAT team going 24/7

CHICAGO — Chicago is one of the few big cities without a police SWAT team that responds to emergencies around-the-clock. Now, WGN Investigates has reviewed a draft memo from CPD’s SWAT team commander announcing the team will be staffed 24/7.

The change comes after WGN Investigates reported gaps in staffing that lead to long response times.  In one case cited in a union safety complaint, a suspect was able to break through a perimeter and take his own life before SWAT fully deployed. The department relies on overtime to cover some overnight shifts as well as calling-in SWAT team members who are off-duty. In protest, some SWAT operators have been refusing to answer calls during their off-hours.

A Chicago police spokesperson confirmed the department is moving to 24/7 SWAT coverage but said details are still being worked out. The draft memo said changes would take effect Nov. 11 and stated SWAT operators who are on-call should not consume alcoholic beverages and must be able to respond within one hour. The Fraternal Order of Police has argued “on-call” time should be paid. A CPD spokesperson said other units in the department are not compensated for being on-call, only if they are requested to respond to an incident.

“We’re fighting dinosaurs in the department to comprehend how a SWAT team should function,” SWAT team member and union rep Robert Bartlett told WGN. The Fraternal Order of Police filed a grievance after a stand-off this summer in which a suspect broke through a police perimeter before the SWAT team could fully assemble. “After calling over 50 members one by one, only eight were able to respond,” the grievance states. The suspect allegedly pointed a gun at officers who shot him. He was injured and then turned the gun on himself. A police department lawyer responded to the union grievance by saying the complaint was not related to officer safety and the incident was “appropriately resolved.”

“Lives are on the line,” said Pete Milionis, who is a former CPD SWAT team member who now conducts training for other departments. “Unless officers make this stand and make people care, bosses will never change,” Milionis said.

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson downplayed the union’s safety concerns during an interview in late-October. “Officers on the street, they know how to keep themselves safe. We don’t need SWAT to keep us safe… SWAT is another tool.” Johnson later acknowledged discussions were underway to staff SWAT around-the-clock.