Military and Police

Train Killing Two Chicago Cops Typifies the Unknowns in Policing

On Monday, a Metra train in Chicago killed two rookie Chicago policemen as they were pursuing a potential gun-toting suspect. At the time of the incident, Chicago police brass had scant information to report during a press conference held by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson et al. Today, however, body-worn camera footage and Metra train operations and dynamics are filling in some blanks.

In essence, it is now believed Chicago police Officers Eduardo Marmolejo, 36, and Conrad Gary, 31, were aware of one train’s presence as they were navigating to where a suspect was actively fleeing. Unfortunately, the first train’s noise and formidable presence distracted the two Chi-town police officers, effectively blocking out hearing/seeing the second train which struck them from the opposite direction.

From the footage recorded by one of the two cops’ body-cam units, Chicago brass were able to discern that the two street cops were unaware of the fast-approaching second train which ultimately culminated in their demise. “They had no idea the train was behind them,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the media.

Chicago police detectives investigating the incident were offered further details regarding railroad dynamics and Metra Rail’s operations manifest, helping to piece together how the situation went horribly awry while also lending to police protocols as it relates to rail-yard activities (read interagency communications and railroad systems operations).

Particularly when an auto or foot pursuit involving one police agency’s personnel crosses over into the jurisdiction of another, police dispatchers routinely call ahead and alert the neighboring department of the in-progress activity. We can presume that Chicago police dispatchers alerted Metra police operators; it is a universal practice among cop shops. In that context, we have not heard much yet about both agencies’ cops interacting in this incident.

Other than for Metra police officers and any other railroad police department personnel, most cops have minimal to zero knowledge pertaining to how train yards and stations operate, at least not in terms of endemics having to do with signaling, timing, stopping, flagging, switching, etc. It is possible senior Chicago cops have some knowledge base which comes with time/experience. But the two Chi-town cops who were struck by the Metra commuter train were fairly new to the Chicago police force and therefore may not have gleaned enough of the railroad nomenclature and functionality, the climax unfolding in largely unknown territory. Witnesses aboard the southbound commuter train described “scraping” and the train “coming to a screeching halt” before many police cars were observed aggregating swiftly. Signs that something inexplicable happened; but commuters didn’t yet know it was too late for two police lives.

ShotSpotter Technology

Also used in New York City, ShotSpotter technology is basically a fixed-position sensory system attuned to the decibel detection of gunfire in external areas. Upon detection of would-be gunshots, police are alerted by the sensor unit closest to the location of gunfire, to which police officers are thus dispatched. That is what triggered the response of Officers Marmolejo and Gary to the periphery of Metra rail property.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago police spokesman Guglielmi offered, “Marmolejo and Gary spotted a suspect, got out of their car and scrambled up to the [embankment to the] track level. The footage shows the officers crossing the viaduct, heading south where they thought the suspect went.

“They were deciphering the offender’s direction of flight,” Guglielmi added. Shortly thereafter, a northbound Metra train proceeded—aware of this, it is believed both policemen heeded that train “but unfortunately they’re not aware there’s a southbound train. They hear the noise [of the northbound train], we suspect. That masks the noise of the other train that is right behind them,” Guglielmi concluded.

According to Chicago reporters Jeremy Gorner and Liam Ford, police found a firearm in the area where the ShotSpotter indicated earlier gunfire. “Police recovered a weapon near where the officers were struck and were questioning a person of interest Tuesday,” adding that “shell casings were found on the scene, near where the ShotSpotter had picked up gunfire, but there are no reports that the officers were shot at or fired their guns.” Did a nut-ball armed with a firearm decide to go randomly shooting near the rail station? Did he have an actual target? Was he aiming for the ShotSpotter? Irony, if so. Did he feel his gunfire would blend in with the din of train traffic coursing the rails?

Nevertheless, ballistics will be conducted as will fingerprint analysis to determine who held the weapon before aborting it to the ground. It is likely the suspect who fled from Officer Marmolejo and Officer Gary intentionally ditched the firearm, given Chicago’s so-called super-strict gun laws oft-touted by local elected officials.

It will be interesting to see if district attorneys seek to charge the perpetrator with the deaths of both cops, attributable to his flight. As well, a charge for abandonment of a dangerous weapon in a public space is a bonus prize dangling from the halls of justice. Then again, prosecutors anywhere near Rahm’s sphere of influence may toss that in the name of some social justice magic trick. Poof!

Metra PD

Composed of 140-plus sworn and non-sworn police employees overseeing eleven rails coursing through 240 stations, Metra Rail’s police department staff patrols railroad property and ensures its rail system users get to/fro safely. Basically channeling through the Chicago metro area, when a call for police service originates in the jurisdiction of the Chicago police, it responds an appropriate amount of officers. Because the Chicago PD received a ShotSpotter alert in their domain, one which wound up crossing jurisdictional boundaries and into an adjoining department’s territory, the Chicago cops found themselves with authority to chase the armed suspect into Metra PD’s jurisdiction.

Whether both law enforcement agencies have interoperability—each department’s personnel able to communicate with the other’s staff—is unknown at this time. Would it have helped prevent the deaths of the two Chicago police officers? After all, if they couldn’t hear one train because of a secondary train, it is not likely they were able to hear their own police radios (usually shoulder mics close to the ear, if not an embedded earbud).

In one of the Petra Police Department recruitment videos, command staff boast, among other virtues within the police entity, the inclusion of “interagency policing across six counties.” I suspect the rail system traverses at least that many Illinois countiesincluding Cook County and its government seat in Chicagoand that engenders how technologically connected they should be.

In the investigation and analysis of this double tragedy, OSHA, Metra, and Chicago investigators will take a close look at such variables. Ultimately, it appears the circumstances were not going to be optimal for any cop who may have been on scene; the decibel level and swiftly-evolving activities may not have played out any differently as the dynamics of railroad momentum can not simply brake and stop on a dime, no matter the speed.

Per Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District CEO and President Michael Noland, the southbound train which struck and killed Gary and Marmolejo was not scheduled to stop at the nearest station, and that is why the general speed during such a protocol is roughly 65 mph in that particular stretch of track. According to Noland, that southbound train was not even expected to slow until it reached Kensington, its next scheduled stop. Green lights and open sailing was the mode at that moment. Even if the police officers heard the southbound train, the danger posed by fast-moving tonnage is inarguably formidable for any one or any thing.

Similar to black boxes on airplanes, trains have a recorder on board which chronicles the trains speeds, when it slows and stops, if the horn was activated at any time, and other variables which will help investigators answer relative questions. Further, Noland explained that it is a custom for trains passing in opposite directions to dim one of their three respective lights so as not to blind the engineers. That is much like motorists traveling in polar-opposite directions on completely darkened roads. In hindsight, however, it seems the police officers would not have seen the dimming of the train behind them, and such a policy may have contributed to unseen variables.

The southbound train’s engineer would be able to clarify what he had in his sights, even though he may not have been able to brake in time to preclude the police fatalities.

According to Chicago Tribune reports today, “Police continued to search the viaduct Tuesday morning to make sure that they had not missed any evidence. Trains were not stopping at the station.” That is vexing: although commerce and life go on while the rumblings of the city transport people here and there, it would seem paramount to conduct a thorough search of a crime/accident scene where two law enforcement officers lost their lives in performance of duty. Seems the stage was set for similar dangers for investigators trying to cull a scene from which they have diminishing chances to collect all pertinent parts…without the hindrance of commuter trains whizzing by and blowing collectable evidence away. Is this just another layer of how Chicago governance embraces it police personnel?

In-the-line-of-duty-deaths (LODDs) are chronicled by the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), denoting the cause of each law enforcement officer’s death. Ordinarily, vehicles (26) and gunfire (50) are the two top causal factors resulting in police fatalities. Train-related deaths for cops is highly unorthodox. As we wind down year 2018 and review the LODD statistics, the current total of cops who perished while on duty stands at 145. Only two of those 145 police fatalities resulted from cops being “Struck by train,” and you just read about them: Chicago Police Officer Conrad Gary and Police Officer Eduardo Marmolejo, both husbands and fathers.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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