Police pushing ahead with plan to buy M4 rifles

A group of South side youths pushing for a public meeting on the Chicago Police Department’s plan to start buying M4 carbine assault rifles is unlikely to get its wish.

The department is moving forward with buying the guns, Superintendent Jody Weis said at a meeting last night. Weis also said he would be discussing the plan with the city’s multicultural advisory committee next month.

A group of about 40 protestors from the Southwest Youth Collaborative chanted slogans like “Stop the war on the poor, no more M4s” outside of Chicago Police headquarters before the meeting, holding up signs as they paced in a large circle.

Like many of the teens at the protest, Ansheera Hilliard, 17, wants to see more options for youths on the South side besides taking jobs at fast food restaurants and joining gangs.

“Put more community centers in these problematic neighborhoods they’re talking about,” Hilliard says.

Simply giving officers more powerful weapons wouldn’t do anything to address the underlying crime problems in the city, she says.

“They want to get us off the streets,” Hilliard says. “Find out what we want to do so we can get ourselves off the streets.”

At the meeting, Gerald Frazier, the director of Citizen Alert, a police watchdog group, urged the board to have a public hearing on the use of the guns.

“This board and the superintendent at the least owe the community some type of public airing about what your strategy is to deal with crime,” Frazier says.

But despite repeated requests from people in the audience for a meeting about the powerful guns, the board sidestepped the topic. It did not take any action on the M4s at the meeting, but it did urge the protest group to submit a written list of questions and concerns for Weis to address at the next meeting.

David Stout, 19, who lives in Lincoln Park, came to the meeting with a group of friends all concerned about police having M4s in their arsenal.
“It would generate such an atmosphere of fear that safety would be unattainable in the city,” Stout says.

Logan Square resident Lily Blackwood, 20, agrees.

“It’s almost like putting military might into the neighborhoods,” she says.

However, Weis says equipping officers with the guns is necessarily to keep up with what some criminals are already using.

In response to a question from board member Victor Gonzalez, Weis said residents voluntarily turned in 109 assault weapons last year.

“When law-abiding citizens are turning in these type of weapons, we can only imagine what type of weapons are on the street,” Weis said.

However, a Daily News review of federal firearms statistics suggests the number of assault weapons seized from Illinois criminals is not on the rise. Nor is the number of homicides committed with rifles in the nation. Also, rifles have been responsible on average for 15 percent of officer deaths each of the last six years.

And firearms experts say bullets from the M4 can travel nearly twice as far as those from a handgun, potentially posing risks for bystanders. Some policing specialists say equipping beat cops with military style weapons sends a message to police and citizens that combat, not cooperation, is the goal.

For now, the department is only buying the M4s for members of its tactical and gang teams, including the SWAT team. Weis said he was hoping to make the purchase soon, though he did not know when it would happen or how much it would cost the department. If beat officers want an M4, Weis said, they would have to buy the guns with their own money. Each M4 costs about $1,200, Weis said.

 “It will, in many ways, keep the city safer than it is today,” he says.

Peter Sachs is a Chicago-based journalist for the Daily News.