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Top cop says COVID-19 surge prompted decision to bump tactical officers down to patrol, sources say

But three police supervisors cast doubt on Supt. David Brown’s reason for the move, which they say has hurt morale in the department.

Chicago police Supt. David Brown.
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown on Tuesday told members of his command staff and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s team that the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases prompted him to reassign most tactical officers to patrol streets in beat cars and respond to 911 calls, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

During the closed-door meeting, Brown said the move was made to shore up staffing as the Omicron variant continues to spread, according to four sources with direct knowledge of the meeting. When the police department canceled days off last week, the Fraternal Order of Police reported that 21% of the police force was on medical leave, with COVID-19 being the driving factor.

However, three police supervisors who commented on the condition of anonymity questioned whether the surge truly prompted the decision to inform district commanders Saturday that 60% of their tactical officers were being moved to beat cars. That decision faced swift backlash and prompted multiple tactical units to threaten to quit those teams en masse. Members of at least one unit — from the Grand Central District — has done just that, the Sun-Times has confirmed.

A police spokesman declined comment.

The three supervisors believe the cuts were actually made based on an analysis of arrests conducted on Jan. 2.

That was just two days before Brown and Lightfoot threatened to demote police leaders who can’t generate more arrests and community outreach as the city grapples with a continued surge in violent crime, warning underperforming tactical officers would be bumped down to beat cars.

While the reassigned tactical officers are still technically part of their old units, police sources previously said they were alarmed about the potentially dangerous effects of depleting tactical teams responsible for proactive policing, like responding to gunfire and gang disturbances and conducting surveillance.

Tactical officers play a pivotal role in making high-level arrests and taking guns off the street, efforts Brown touted last month as some of the department’s few bright spots during the city’s most violent year in a quarter-century. But with the more than 800 homicides recorded last year still fresh in their minds, the three supervisors said many are questioning the superintendent’s crime-fighting strategies.

“The department has been in a constant state of reorganization since Brown arrived, which is evidence that he has no strategy and doesn’t know what he’s doing,” one police source said.