Could undercover squad even follow their noses?

July 10, 1995|By MIKE ROYKO

Some liberals are worried about Mayor Daley's desire to set up a limited version of the Chicago police department's old Red Squad spy unit.

Daley says the undercover and intelligence-gathering cops would concentrate on violent street gangs.

But opponents fear it would bring back the days when the undercover cops looked for dangerous communists and other subversives, but couldn't find any.

Instead, they tried to spy on neighborhood groups, political activists, civil rights workers, hippies, yippies and critics of City Hall or the Vietnam War.

As one who was snooped by the old Red Squad, I'm not concerned. I always figured that they couldn't have found Joe Stalin if he was selling bootleg vodka outside police headquarters.

And they weren't much better at spying on those they thought were dangerous.

I remember when I discovered that I was under surveillance.

It was lunchtime, and I was going to meet a friend at a Polish restaurant near Milwaukee, Damen and North.

I had parked my car and was walking through the triple-intersection when I remembered something I left in my car and turned to go back.

That's when I saw him, a detective I met a couple of years earlier while covering some kind of pro-Cuba rally.

He was walking toward me, but when I reversed directions, he suddenly stopped, hunched his shoulders and began peering into a store window, as if studying the merchandise on display.

The problem was there was no merchandise on display because it was a vacant store.

He didn't seem to realize that until I drew near and said: "Hey, are you following me?"

Then he walked quickly in the opposite direction.

I stayed with him and said: "I'm going to a nice Polish restaurant around the corner. Why don't you come along?"

He shook his head and fumbled with his car keys.

"Come on," I said, "all the waitresses are Polish immigrants. Maybe one of them will confess that she's a commie spy."

"Knock it off," he finally said. "Just knock it off, huh?"

"Then why are you following me?"

"Who's following you?"

"You are."

"You don't know what you're talking about. I don't even know you."

"Of course you know me, and I know you."

"Well, I'm not following you."

"Then why are you running away?"

"I'm in a hurry."

"C'mon, I'll pay for lunch. They have great pierogi and Polish beer."

He glared at me and said: "You wanna have lunch?"

"Sure, then I'll tell you all about my plans to overthrow the government of the United States."

"I gotta go," he angrily said as he got in the car, slammed the door and drove away.

That was the last I saw of him, but apparently it wasn't the last that he or one of his fellow snoops saw of me.

Some weeks after that, I stopped in a tavern called the Sleepy Hollow on Addison Street, near Schurz High School.

It was a popular hangout for Northwest Side racists, neo-Nazis and undercover cops.

The owner was a devout right-wing bigot, which he proudly admitted, but he was fun to argue with and a good source for the thinking of those who have woolly caterpillars between their ears.

That night he said something like: "How are all your pinko pals in Hyde Park?"

Hyde Park?

"Sure, you hang out there in that pinko bar with those university radicals. I know."

Then it came to me. Yes, a couple of Saturdays earlier I had been in Hyde Park. I had gone there with my softball team to play a beer game.

"The cops followed me to a softball game?" I asked.

With a sly leer he said: "That ain't all I know. How's your colored girlfriend?"

That one really floored me.

"Oh, yeah, I know about her. I even saw the confidential report."

I told him I didn't know what he was talking about.

"Sure. And you weren't driving her around Lincoln Park in your new red car on a Saturday afternoon, huh?"

I had it. The girl, barely out of high school, was a copy clerk at the paper I worked for then. I was leaving the newsroom one afternoon when she and another copy clerk asked me for a lift to where they were meeting some friends.

That, as far as I know, was the intelligence gathered on me by the legendary Red Squad: a pierogi lunch, a softball game and giving a couple of kids a lift.

So if the mayor wants to put together a spy squad to snoop street gangs, he can go ahead.

But I wouldn't be surprised if the undercover sleuths wind up umpiring softball games.

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