Scandals Bring Down Chicago's Elite Police Unit The Chicago Police Department is disbanding its elite Special Operations Section. Seven officers have been charged with robbery and kidnapping. Chicago Tribune reporter Dave Heinzmann talks about the SOS unit and the police department's action.
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Scandals Bring Down Chicago's Elite Police Unit

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Scandals Bring Down Chicago's Elite Police Unit

Scandals Bring Down Chicago's Elite Police Unit

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In Chicago, a police scandal has led the city to shut down an elite-crime-fighting unit, the Special Operations Section. Seven SOS officers were arrested last year for robbery and kidnapping.

David Heinzmann covers the story for the Chicago Tribune. David, is the city saying now with this action to shut down this unit, it's not just a few bad apples, the whole barrel is rotten?

Mr. DAVID HEINZMANN (Correspondent, Chicago Tribune): They're not saying the whole barrel's rotten, but as late as last week, Mayor Daley was saying a few bad apples. And I think now, they're recognizing that there may be something more systemic wrong with SOS, and they may have to look more closely at the way units like SOS operate, which was a - with a lot more freedom than your typical patrol officers.

CHADWICK: So what happened? I mean, these are really supposed to be elite cops, right? I mean, these guys are really, really good. And when I read it, holy moly, seven of them have been arrested for robbery and kidnapping. That's sounds like something really happened.

Mr. HEINZMANN: Yeah. The whole idea here was that these were officers with whom you could entrust a lot more independence on the street. They were good at hunting drugs and hunting guns and finding gang members. But in this - in cases where, you know, cops sort of drift to the dark side, and they have a lot of freedom. And theses officers allegedly began picking up people who are either drug dealers or lived in high-crime neighborhoods and just taking money from them or taking drugs from them and filing bogus arrest reports.

CHADWICK: There eventually was a federal investigation, because word got out. So other cops started looking at these cops. And then there's this story of one officer, a Mr. Finnegan, who allegedly try to hire a hit man to kill a one of these fellow SOS cops?

Mr. HEINZMANN: Yeah. Jerry Finnegan is - you know, I've talked to police officers, you know, years ago who said Jerry Finnegan was a great cop, very aggressive cop, sort of the quintessential SOS officer - very aggressive, very street smart. And this investigation actually started years ago, you know, the police department would get complains about these guys. And Internal Affairs opened cases but didn't really do anything with them. And the years went by, and then the Cook County States Attorney's Office started noticing that they weren't showing up on their drug cases.

They would make arrests and then not follow through, which was very suspicious. So they launched a probe, which was what led to this seven - the charges against the seven guys. And then the United States Attorney's Office got involved here within the last - over the summer, to really start to look at why this was allowed to happen, to look at commanders, to look at Internal Affairs, and Finnegan.

Of course, with the federal investigation, one of the other officers under indictment said Jerry Finnegan's been talking about hiring a hitman to kill one of the other SOS cops who had already started cooperating with authorities. And within a week of getting that information, they had that officer wear a wire. And Finnegan talked about discussions with the hitman, and the FBI swooped in to his house in the south side of Chicago and arrested him.

CHADWICK: David, what is the impact of all this on the Chicago Police Department? I mean, I would think that they must be chagrined, of course, embarrassed. What about kind of long-term implications for how they conduct police work in Chicago?

Mr. HEINZMANN: Well, obviously, it's not good. It's not good on many levels. It's not good at the rank and file level. It's very bad for Mayor Daley, who is, at this, you know, moment, trying to continue to push or burnish Chicago's image on the world's stage, trying to get the Olympics to come here. You know, the police department, over the last few years, has really sort of put itself out there as one of the leading law enforcement agencies in the country. And so to have this sort of old-style-Chicago corruption bubbling up again, yet again, I mean, this is certainly not the first police scandal we've had. It just - it could not come on the worst time for the city. And it is very, very bad for the morale within the police department.

CHADWICK: David Heinzmann of the Chicago Tribune on the city shutting down its elite crime-fighting unit, the Special Operation Section. David, thank you.

Mr. HEINZMANN: You're welcome.

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