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Police union complains about safety at Harrison District

 Chicago Police Department 11th District 3151 W. Harrison. Monday Decemer 5 2011 | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Police Department 11th District 3151 W. Harrison. Monday, Decemer 5, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: January 7, 2012 8:08AM

The Fraternal Order of Police has filed a safety complaint saying there have been four recent security breaches at the West Side’s Harrison District police station — one of them involving a man with a loaded assault rifle.

The most serious of the incidents happened at 2:50 a.m. Nov. 24. A man is accused of storming into the station at 3151 W. Harrison and declaring “martial law” while brandishing an AR-15 assault rifle loaded with 31 rounds. After relinquishing the weapon, the man was taken to Stroger Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, police said. The man, who was not charged, told police he found the weapon in an alley.

On Sept. 10, a man jumped onto the station’s front desk screaming and waving his fists, then attempted to attack desk officers by entering a restricted area through a closed iron gate, according to the FOP. On Aug. 11, a man walked into the station with an unloaded assault rifle. And on June 7, a man allegedly entered the station, threw computers on the floor, kicked in an office door and assaulted at least one officer, the FOP said.

All four incidents took place after an internal security assessment pinpointed vulnerabilities at the station. They have not been corrected, according to the FOP.

The February report recommended installation of a 5-foot-high metal fence to restrict unauthorized entry into the front-office area; an alarm system; a “recordable closed circuit surveillance” system; magnetic card-activated security gates at parking garage access points; and keypad locking systems on locker rooms and restrooms.

“The city had an internal document stating what needs to be corrected and nothing has ever been done. The next thing you know, a guy with a loaded AR-15 walks in. We are concerned about the safety of our officers,” FOP President Michael Shields said.

Harrison is one of Chicago’s highest-crime districts. The 1976 police station desperately needs to be modernized, said Shields, who used to work there.

“It’s a very dangerous district, but there is some expectation that when you’re inside a police station, it should be a safer place,” he said. “In newer stations, the actual front desk is elevated, providing somewhat of a barrier between the officer and the person entering. If there’s a confrontation, the person can’t just jump over. At Harrison, the offender is higher than the desk officers.”

Police spokesperson Sarah Hamilton noted that the department has a safety committee that meets regularly with the union to discuss officer safety concerns.

“Officer safety is paramount,” she said. “We will discuss this with them.”

Two years ago, Chicago turned into a national laughingstock when a 14-year-old police impersonator scammed his way into going out onto the street with a real officer for five hours — and even driving a squad car. The pretender entered the Grand Crossing station with a bogus badge and no police ID or gun. He went through a back door propped open to give officers easy access. Then-Police Supt. Jody Weis called the incident “unforgivable” and asked the U.S. Secret Service to evaluate security at all 25 district stations.

Over the years, there have been periodic breaches of station security.

In July 2010, a felon with a long arrest record grabbed the service revolver of Officer Thor Soderberg and shot him dead after trying to get inside a renovated police facility at 6120 S. Racine. After Bryant Brewer shot Soderberg, he fired shots at a stranger sitting across the street, then peppered the facade of the police building with bullets, prosecutors said. Three officers who came out of the building returned fire, wounding Brewer in the chest.

In 2007, police shot and wounded a man after he walked into the Grand Crossing station and pointed a gun at officers. And in 2002, a man came into the lobby of the old Town Hall District with a knife in his right hand, refused orders to drop the weapon and came within inches of an officer — who then shot and killed the man.

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