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After Memphis Police SCORPION unit is disbanded, watchdogs take issue with Chicago Police specialized units

After Memphis SCORPION unit, watchdog calls for look at Chicago Police specialized units
After Memphis SCORPION unit, watchdog calls for look at Chicago Police specialized units 02:52

CHICAGO (CBS/AP) -- The Memphis Police SCORPION Unit, which included the officers behind the deadly beating of Tyre Nichols, was disbanded over the weekend after video of the attack was released.

As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, some watchdogs have been asking whether Chicago Police need to take a look at their own specialized units.

Watchdogs say the CPD unit most closely resembling the unit in Memphis was disbanded after an investigation led to charges and prison sentences for the Chicago Police officers involved. They say we also need to keep an eye on an active unit called the Community Safety Team.

As protests took place across the U.S., the Memphis Police Department announced Saturday that the SCORPION unit - consisting of 40 officers and launched in 2021 to target violent crime - would be disbanded.

"Whether you give them fancy names like Special Operations or SCORPIONS – bad idea," said Craig Futterman, a clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago, "unaccountable to community - creates a lot of harm."

Futterman said Chicago also has a long history of specialized units violating the rights of the residents they're supposed to protect.

One so-called "elite" unit that resembled Memphis' SCORPION unit was the Special Operations Section (or SOS) Unit, which was disbanded in October 2007.

As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported at the time, the Special Operations Section – an elite drug and gang squad – had been under scrutiny for a year when it was disbanded.

In 2006, former officer Jerome Finnigan and six other special ops cops were charged with violently robbing homes of innocent residents and drug dealers, and ever since video surfaced of officers unlawfully searching patrons of a bar.

Finnigan was also later charged with plotting to have another officer killed, because he believed the officer was cooperating with the investigation of the SOS unit. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2011.

In September 2007, three ither members of the SOS unit were stripped of their badges and assigned to desk work after surveillance camera video at a bar contradicted officers' version of a search and arrests there.

Officers said in a police report that they searched Reymundo Martinez outside the bar in March 2004 because he was drinking on a public street. and arrested him when they found a plastic bag of cocaine sticking out of his sleeve. t video from inside and outside the bar showed more than two dozen SOS members raiding the bar and searching everyone and showed them arresting Martinez inside.

"The recent incidents involving officer misconduct have been disheartening and demoralizing, especially to the officers who serve this department honorably every single day," then-Interim police Supt. Dana Starks upon announcing the dissolution of special ops in 2007.

In 2013, University of Illinois at Chicago professors Dick Simpson and John Hagedorn traced police misconduct over 50 years and found more than 300 officers in that time had been convicted of serious crimes, a third of those for illegal drug dealing, weapons sales, and gang activity.

"We have a situation of runaway corruption and crime in the Police Department itself that has to be dealt with seriously," Simpson told CBS 2's Chris Martinez in 2013.

Futterman said the SOS unit in Chicago can easily be compared to the SCORPION Unit in Memphis.

"And that's exactly what we saw in Memphis. That's we see in Chicago - particularly with units like SOS," Futterman said. "It's like: 'You show me any disrespect? You run? You're going to get a beating.'"

Futterman also points to the current Chicago Police Community Safety Team, which was formed in 2020 to "improve relationships and build trust in the community."

But the CBS 2 investigators have already found issues with a lack of oversight into that specialized unit. Futterman argues it should also be disbanded. 

"The reality is, it is the SCORPION team with lipstick," Futterman said.

We did reach out to CPD about the current status of the Community Safety Team and any additional oversight in light of the developments in Memphis.

Late Monday, we were still waiting for a response. We'll of course keep following up. 

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