Chicago police superintendent gets a grilling
Related article: Chicago's new top cop shakes things up
By Don Babwin
CHICAGO — Just months into his job, the outsider brought in to shake up Chicago's police department is on the hot seat over an increase in homicides and other violent crimes and a decrease in gun seizures, arrests and even traffic stops.
In a sometimes tense hearing on Tuesday, City Council members grilled Superintendent Jody Weis about moves such as bringing in a slew of commanders within weeks of taking over, with at least one alderman suggesting Weis put commanders in positions they weren't prepared for.
The hearing marked the most visible signal yet of the intense pressure that Weis is under. It has only mounted since early this month when gunfire left one person dead and others injured near the Taste of Chicago — a huge festival held in the same park in which thousands would gather if the city hosts the 2016 Olympic Games.
It also was the most public display of concerns about Weis' performance since Mayor Richard Daley hired him with a mandate to repair the department's image tarnished by a string of incidents — including an off-duty officer whose alleged beating of a female bartender was videotaped and shown around the world.
Since he took over in February, Weis has rankled both aldermen and members of his department with moves such as replacing 21 of 25 district commanders, talk of getting officers into better shape and his decision to move some of them into the streets and out from behind desks they'd been sitting at for years.
He further angered some within the rank-and-file when he asked federal officials to investigate an officer who'd already pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and was serving a two-year suspension.
On Tuesday, the alderman who in May told of hearing about officers who didn't pull their weapons as quickly as they should for fear of being disciplined by the new administration came armed with statistics.
Alderman Isaac Carothers said that even as violent crimes rose — homicides, for example, are up 13 percent — police took some 500 fewer guns off the street this year compared to the same period last year. And he told Weis that the number of gang interventions was down.
"Are you aware that arrests are down and police appear to be doing less?" he asked Weis, sounding like a prosecutor instead of the head of a city council committee.
Weis acknowledged those figures.
"I do find that very troubling," he said.
Weis said he had no evidence that officers ignored criminal activity. But he said officers have told him they are afraid of being sued or the subject of complaints by criminals.
"I told them don't be timid," Weis said of meetings he's had with officers. And he said he has assured them that not only does he want them to be aggressive, but will support them if they act appropriately and within the law.
Weis, the first outsider to run the department in decades, defended some of his decisions and how quickly he has moved to make necessary changes. "I was brought in because there needed to be a cultural change in the Chicago Police Department," he said.
One reason perhaps that Weis finds himself under such scrutiny is that he took the job at the exact time City Hall is making its push to get the 2016 Olympic Games. And a big part of any city's bid is its ability to keep visitors safe — in Chicago that means keeping visitors safe in Grant Park, which is not only the site of the Taste of Chicago but a spot where huge crowds will descend if the city gets the games.
A.D. Frazier, the chief operating officer of the Olympic Games in Atlanta, said demonstrating to the International Olympic Committee the ability to provide security is crucial to a city's bid.
"You cannot expect the Olympic deciders to not care about the safety and security of that spot," he said, adding that he's confident Chicago will do things like beef up patrols and add lighting to ensure Grant Park is as safe as possible.
Aldermen, even those who asked Weis tough questions, continued to voice their support for the new superintendent. But they also made it clear they expect better results.
"I'm from Missouri," said Alderman Ray Suarez in a reference to the state's nickname, "The Show Me State."
"In six months," he said, "We're going to come back."
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