Recently I attended a reunion of police officers who had been assigned to the old 015th District. Known as Austin and Fort Forgotten. There were old retired officers who you were surprised were still alive as well as young guys and gals in their thirties. I imagine there were about 250 of us in attendance.
Austin was an unusual district. On the west side of the city bordering Oak Park on the west and Cicero on the south, it was a postage stamp on the city map.
Not a large population, geographically small, and mostly residential, it should have been a nice serene section of the city. It wasn’t then and it still isn’t today. Crime was rampant due to illegal drugs and the effect they have on families and neighborhoods.
I was assigned there from 1985 through 1993. It had been known as a dumping district. Screw up somewhere and you got dumped to Fort Forgotten.
My partner and I got sent there along with several other officers when they decided only nice quiet district could be training districts and they needed to make room for the FTOs. Due to its reputation many of our supervisors had been dumped there.
Not because they did something criminal but instead, they did something that pissed off their boss. Many knew they might never leave the district to more pleasant districts.
The actual district station was a decrepit old building. A traditional old desk with the desk sergeant sitting there when you entered. A scent particular to police stations greeted you as you entered.
A mixture of sweat, perspiration, and smelly feet. The building only had air conditioning with window units in the small offices. The larger areas used by the public and POs only benefited from large open windows in the summer. The Lock-Up smelled of the many prisoners it held over the years.
Again no AC so in the summer it got very warm only adding to the aroma.
There was a large locker room shared by both sexes since the woman’s locker room only held about 9 lockers. When the building was designed that wasn’t an issue. There was no room for privacy in that cramped locker room.
Being busy isn’t the bane of most districts. What’s important are places to eat and get coffee. There were none in the confines of Fort Forgotten. Instead we had drugs, hot cars, and homicides. You could buy Crack Cocaine on most any corner.
It seemed that every car stolen on the north side made it’s way to Austin. There it got stripped of anything of value and left sitting on cinder blocks in an alley or empty lot.
One officer in one 28 day police period, made an arrest for possession of stolen motor vehicle everyday he worked. This resulted in a lot of chases in vehicles and then on foot.
While not leading the city in homicides we were always in the top five. Considering the district size and population, we actually ranked higher. There was an apartment building on one side street known to both the police and neighbors as “The Murder Building”.
I clearly remember one call of a man shot on the third floor in the hallway. We responded along with several other officers. We found one DOA on the third floor, shot dead, and another shot dead on the second floor. The two shootings were completely unrelated other than the address.
I was shot at while there but the closest call I had was a traffic accident where I got T-boned and flipped the squad onto its roof. Ah, memories.
Having been assigned to Austin was a badge of honor recognized by every Chicago Police officer. It certainly ensured you had been exposed to most everything a police officer might run into.
You can’t help but learn your job in an atmosphere like this. We did. The officers who were senior taught us by example and guidance. Our supervisors ensured we knew our job by making sure we all worked beat cars, paddy wagons, desk, and lock up. Later in my career this knowledge helped me in my work and promotion exams.
By the time I transferred out of the district I had trained several officers. I hope well. None went to prison so that might mean something. Those younger officers stayed there for a while honing their skills and training the next wave of young officers.
Standing at the bar at the reunion one of the younger officers (he is getting ready to retire himself) commented how great it was to see the mentors of his mentors gathering for a beer and to tell old stories.
The old building is gone now. Torn down and hauled away. I have a brick from the building recovered as it was demolished. It has a place of honor in my home. That brick along with many great memories are all that is left of the old Fort Forgotten. Well, there are a lot of good friends.
The new district station on a few blocks to the south and filled with a new batch of officers. Most have probably never been in the old building. Perhaps in thirty years they will gather to celebrate their old friends and times past.
Stay safe everyone. Run low and zigzag,