Chicago cops hope money talks in new gun trafficking effort


CHICAGO — The Chicago Police Department on Monday announced a new team of officers, prosecutors and federal agents that will target gun trafficking, an effort that depends heavily on people coming forward with information in exchange for money.

At a news conference, Police Superintendent David Brown said he’s confident that the offer of money from a $1 million fund for tips that Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced last week will be persuasive.

“I’ve seen criminals for the right price, turn over their mother,” he said. “I have.”

Brown did not provide any details on how much money people would receive for tips to the new Gun Investigations Team but said the amount would be significant.

Tips can be made anonymously and, if that information results in arrests or an indictment, the department will protect the identity of tipsters, police spokesman Tom Ahern said.

Police have long paid for information but Brown said the department has never launched a similar program that specifically targets gun trafficking and straw purchasers — people who legally buy weapons then provide them to people who cannot legally purchase them.

“The point of this is to get the gun before it hits the streets at the trafficking level,” he said.

Ëlena Gottreich, deputy director for prosecutorial strategies for the department and one of the new team’s leaders, said that while the department recovers thousands of illegal guns a year, “We lacked the mechanism to intercept the guns prior to them hitting the streets.”

After another bloody weekend that ended with more than 60 people shot, including 10 fatally, and with homicide totals expected to surge in what is typically the most violent time of year, Brown said it’s especially important to seek out those who have are unwilling to come forward with information.

“Someone knows who is being paid as a third party to purchase guns for a violent person in this city, that would do a drive-by shooting on young people celebrating a graduation, who have been reluctant to give it to police,” he said, referring to a shooting late Saturday on the West Side in which a 12-year-old girl and four teenagers were wounded by gunfire at an outside party.

Brown also said the team — which includes Cook County and federal prosecutors — will charge gun traffickers “with the highest crime we can.”

The announcement comes days after Brown and Lightfoot talked to President Joe Biden about what his administration might do about gun violence in Chicago. When Brown returned from the White House he said he would soon roll out a new initiative.

Biden recently announced he would deploy so-called “strike force teams” to Chicago and other major cities but Brown said he needed to do something independent of that effort.

“Chicago can’t wait for the strike force,” he said. “We have to do everything we can from a law enforcement perspective to take guns off the streets from violent people,” he said.

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