Opponents plan second protest over M4 rifles

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Education reporter
  • November 20, 2008 @ 12:00 PM

Community activists opposed to the Chicago Police Department’s plan to equip its tactical units with M4 carbine assault rifles are planning another protest tonight.

About 40 people protested the plan last month outside of a Police Board meeting, demanding that the department hold a public hearing before buying the guns. Police officials said at the time they would reach out to community groups but would not commit to formal hearings.

There are no items on tonight’s Police Board agenda related to the guns, the board’s administrative office said, but several people are signed up to speak on the topic during the meeting’s open comment period.

Supt. Jody Weis said last month he wants to begin purchasing the $1,200 weapons in the next few months for the department’s S.W.A.T., gang and other tactical units. Beat officers would be able to buy the guns as well, but would have to do so with their own money.

Police have said they need the weapons to keep up with criminals who are using increasingly powerful guns. The semiautomatic M4 assault rifles have a far greater range and greater accuracy than standard-issue side arms. But opponents of the plan worry that police would inadvertently hit innocent bystanders with M4 rounds during confrontations. And opponents say the guns would militarize the city’s police force.

A September investigation by the Daily News found that the number of assault rifles seized in Illinois has remained flat for each of the last several years, and that such weapons have accounted for about 15 percent of officer deaths in those years.

Tonight’s protest will start at 6:30 p.m. at the Chicago Police Headquarters, 3510 S. Michigan Ave.

Peter Sachs is a Chicago-based journalist. He covers higher education for the Daily News.