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Chicago's new top cop shakes things up

The Associated Press


CHICAGO -- Everyone expected Jody Weis to make changes in the Chicago Police Department when he left the FBI to become the first outsider in decades to head the city force.

He was, after all, taking over a department tarnished by a string of embarrassing incidents--including the worldwide airing of a videotape allegedly showing a police officer beating a female bartender. And he was doing so just as the city was trying to polish its image in a bid to host the 2016 Olympics.

Weis marked 100 days on the job Saturday and he hasn't just ruffled feathers. He's plucked them.

He replaced 21 of the department's 25 district commanders. He announced that desk jockeys would start hitting the streets. And he wants officers to lose those beer bellies.

J-Fed, as the former head of the FBI's Philadelphia office is called by more than a few street cops, brought in his own command staff, including another former FBI agent hired specifically to make officers more accountable for their actions.

Then he asked federal officials to investigate an officer who'd already pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and was serving a two-year suspension.

At the same time, Weis, a weight lifter, has been willing to flex the department's muscles.

After three dozen shootings, many gang related, left nine people dead in a single weekend last month, he deployed SWAT teams in full battle gear. And to match the firepower of the city's street gangs, he's proposed that every one of his 13,500 officers be armed with semiautomatic assault rifles.

"I've been on the job 31 years and I've never seen the type of changes taking place in such a short time span," said Fraternal Order of Police President Mark Donahue.

It all has observers--some who say they're pleased and others, like Donahue, who aren't--shaking their heads.

Alderman Howard Brookins Jr. particularly likes how Weis brought in so many new district commanders.

"It appears he put those commanders in place without regard to political affiliation, lineage or cliques that have plagued the police ... department for years," said Brookins.

About Weis' proposal for a mandated physical fitness test, he said, "If you can't chase down my 3-year-old you are more apt to shoot a person than chase them down."

Brookins also applauded Weis for referring to the FBI the case of William Cozzi, an officer who pleaded guilty to state charges in the beating of a man who was handcuffed in a wheelchair. Federal prosecutors charged Cozzi with violating the man's civil rights.

Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who has studied the department and allegations of police brutality extensively, said that for a police superintendent to refer a case for criminal prosecution "is certainly an encouraging sign."

Futterman said that in a 15-year period ending in 2004, there were only two police officers prosecuted by county prosecutors for on-duty brutality against a civilian.

But Donahue said some of Weis' actions will hurt department morale, including intervening in a case in which the officer had already accepted his punishment, both by the courts and the department.

"It's being looked at (by officers) as double jeopardy," he said.

Weis did not respond to requests made to his public affairs office for an interview and on Friday spokeswoman Monique Bond said Weis was not ready to talk about his tenure. But Bond defended the superintendent's actions in that case and others, including his recommendation to fire Anthony Abbate, the officer involved in the videotaped beating of a bartender.

"I think we can't lose sight of why the superintendent was put in here to begin with--and that was to address some of the misconduct cases that have been at the root of a handful of cases that have plagued the department," she said.

But Cozzi and Abbate aren't the only officers whose actions have damaged the department's reputation. Last year, a group of off-duty officers was charged with beating up four businessmen in a bar; they all pleaded not guilty.

In the wake of those incidents, Weis' predecessor, Phil Cline, announced his retirement.

Mayor Richard Daley hired Weis with the mandate to clean up the department's image. On Friday, a spokesman for the mayor said Daley was pleased with Weis' performance thus far.

However, Alderman Isaac Carothers said he hasn't seen many "substantive changes," aside from the new district commanders. He said he too worries about police morale. "He has to figure out a way to get the support of the men and women who work for him," Carothers said.

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