Chicago police create new gun team to target illegal weapons ahead of Biden strike force

About 50 cops will focus on gun traffickers and people whose state firearm permits have been revoked in the latest effort to reduce violence in the city.

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A customer checks out a gun at a suburban gun store.

A customer checks out a gun at a suburban gun store.

Scott Olson/Getty

Supt. David Brown is creating a new Chicago Police Department team of about 50 officers to target gun traffickers and people who shouldn’t have weapons because their state firearm permits have been revoked, police officials told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The team, based in Homan Square on the West Side, will work under Jason Brown, commander of the police department’s gang investigations and narcotics division, and Elena Gottreich, a former assistant Cook County state’s attorney who, as a prosecutor, focused on gun crimes. Gottreich, a civilian, is the deputy director of prosecutorial strategies for the police department, a new position.

Elena Gottreich.

Elena Gottreich.


Three groups of 10 officers will investigate gun trafficking and a fourth group of 10 will go after people with revoked Firearm Owner’s Identification cards.

A fifth group of 10 officers will:

  • Help process recovered guns for testing to see whether they’ve been used in other crimes and determine who last owned them.
  • Process officers’ guns used in shootings.
  • And handle alerts from the state police that someone’s FOID card is expired.

They’ll work with the department’s existing unit that already does that.

In addition to the new police gun team, the department has sent a small number of officers to work directly with agents in the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on an existing task force, sources said.

The new initiative will focus in part on gun stores in the suburbs and surrounding states that sell firearms to “straw purchasers,” people who are legally authorized to buy guns but then illegally supply them to felons who are barred from buying them.

“We’re going to locate the girl that buys the guns for the Gangster Disciples in Englewood,” said one Chicago cop on the team.

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The gun team will also follow up on alerts from the state police about people whose FOID cards are no longer valid because they were convicted of a felony or were institutionalized for mental illness. Officers will try to seize their guns and get back their no-longer-valid FOID cards, an issue that drew attention after a mass shooting in 2019 in Aurora.

“It’s something we’ve been doing all along,” Jason Brown said. “We’re just beefing up our presence. They will do their homework before they go, conduct surveillance before they actually knock on doors. It’s necessary primarily to ensure the wrong people aren’t possessing firearms.”

Police officials said the new gun team has been planned for months. Officers were expected to start working on the new team over the weekend.

They said a Cook County prosecutor will be assigned to work directly with the team. Some cases will be charged in state court, others in federal court.

The initiative, coming amid political concerns that City Hall and government needs to do more about violent crime and guns, follows other law enforcement “surges” in recent years in Chicago to combat illegal gun possession and trafficking.

Under former President Donald Trump — who called Chicago a “war zone” — hundreds of federal agents were sent here last year in Operation Legend, which focused on illegal gun possession and trafficking. Federal cases from that operation are still winding through the federal courts.

Some gang members admitted they were worried about facing federal prosecution under Operation Legend rather than being tried in the Cook County court system, where they were less afraid of getting serious prison time, police said last year.

Trump authorized a similar, smaller, surge against gun offenders in 2017 after threatening to “send in the feds” before he took office. A 2018 Sun-Times analysis found the number of federal gun cases rose in Chicago following that mobilization.

The creation of the new Chicago police gun teams comes as President Joe Biden promises to create federal strike forces in Chicago and other major cities to combat gun crime — a reaction to the soaring numbers of murders over the past two years across the country. Department of Justice officials are scheduled to announce details of the strike force on Thursday in Chicago.

The superintendent was among the law enforcement officials who met with Biden a week ago to discuss the federal anti-crime initiative.

President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland discussing gun crime prevention measures.

President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland discussing gun crime prevention measures.

Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

Biden pledged during his campaign to spend $300 million to hire cops and provide training for police departments that meet “basic standards of decency.”

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Chief Cook County Judge Tim Evans have been in a war of words with David Brown over who’s responsible for the bloodshed in Chicago. Through July 11, Chicago had 382 killings — up nearly 50% over the same period of 2019 and about even with last year.

The police superintendent blames a growing number of felons being granted bail and getting placed on electronic monitoring to await trial under Evans’ 2017 bail reforms. He has said that, once out of jail, many of those felons are shooting and killing people.

Evans has said the evidence Supt. Brown is using is anecdotal and not backed by statistics.

Foxx said detectives should be locking up more people for shootings and killings.

For decades, detectives have been saying they’re stymied by a “no-snitch” code that keeps witnesses, many tied to gangs, from giving cops information about shootings, resulting in low arrest rates.

Still, the Chicago Police Department is good at getting guns. For years, Chicago cops have recovered more illegal guns than in any other U.S. city, including New York. In 2020, Chicago cops seize more than 11,300 of them and this year are on pace to get even more.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Last month, Foxx’s office released data showing Chicago police arrests for illegal gun possession have increased every year since 2016, while arrests for violent crimes committed with guns — such as robberies, shootings and killings — decreased.

But a smaller and smaller percentage of people have been going to prison for illegal gun possession — and instead are getting sentenced to probation — partly because of a state law that offers probation to first-time gun offenders, according to Foxx’s office.

Cook County prosecutors draw a distinction between the crimes of illegal gun possession and using a gun in a crime. Illegal gun possession is considered “non-violent” in Foxx’s office because no one knows whether someone with a weapon intends to use it in a crime.

Police officials scoff at that, saying the proliferation of guns in Chicago is a big reason for the violence and that many people caught with illegal guns are known by the police to be violent criminals but haven’t been arrested for that because of a lack of evidence.

Robert Tracy, now chief of the Wilmington, Delaware, police department and the former head of the Chicago police department’s crime-fighting strategy, was in the same White House meeting last Monday with David Brown and told the Sun-Times, “We have to have a consequence, a penalty, for illegally carrying a weapon — and that will resonate in the community.”

Contributing: Lynn Sweet

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