'If a call goes out, it’s a Hail Mary'; former officer says Chicago SWAT lacks training, manpower
Chicago’s SWAT teams are ill-prepared to respond to terrorism, the taking of a hostage or any other crisis that demands a rapid, full-scale police presence, a former SWAT team member says.
The former officer, who asked not to be identified, contacted Chicago City Wire (CCW) in response to a story published June 11, “Do thin SWAT ranks put Chicago as risk?" He told CCW that the story only touches on the shortcomings in numbers, training, and techniques in Chicago SWAT.
“The 60 members the department says we have is a joke,” the former team member said. “That’s only on paper. If a call goes out, it’s a Hail Mary. We don’t know who is going to respond.”
He added that at night the full SWAT complement on patrol is at most four, and sometimes as low as two.
“Typically from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. we have two SORT teams (Special Operations Response Team) on patrol,” he said. “From 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. we have one team. That means two guys in one pick-up truck covering the entire city.”
What’s more, Chicago SWAT has no training in explosive breaching.
“In a hostage situation you have to know how to enter in from a wall inside of the building, because the bad guy is either covering the entrance or has blocked it,” he said. “Even the SWAT teams in smaller cities know how to do this.”
Other inadequacies include Chicago SWAT having only two armored vehicles – one a 20-year-old BearCat “that’s always breaking down” -- and no maritime training.
“If the Odyssey (a dinner cruise boat docked at the Navy Pier) is ever taken, we would not know how to respond,” he said.
For the earlier CCW story, a Chicago Police Department (CPD) spokesperson said it was the department's policy not to reveal either the total number of SWAT officers or the number assigned to each shift. But the spokesperson did confirm that volunteers are not required to respond to a call, and they are paid only if they do respond.
The CPD reports that over the past year, its SWAT teams have responded to 40 calls, including barricaded subjects, suicidal subjects and hostage-rescue incidents. It has also engaged in 65 high-risk search warrants and 500 missions at professional sports venues, large concert venues and major events, such as the Chicago Marathon.