Chicago cops blame 'low morale' for less arrests
By Don Babwin
The Associated Press
CHICAGO — Serious crime is up but arrests are down in Chicago, and some police officers say they are working the streets less aggressively out of resentment toward their new chief and fear of being second-guessed by him.
"People are doing just what they need to get through" their shifts, said Lt. Robert Weisskopf, president of the Chicago police lieutenants union, "and not any extra."
In addition to making fewer arrests, police are seizing fewer guns and frisking gang members less often than they did before Superintendent Jody Weis was brought in to clean up a department embarrassed by a string of brutality cases, according to interviews, statistics provided by police and an internal document obtained by The Associated Press.
Department spokeswoman Monique Bond disputed the notion of any deliberate slowdown by police, saying, "There is nothing that we have to prove or support a theory like that."
She suggested instead that the drop in arrests means officers are focusing on serious crimes instead of such offenses as disorderly conduct and public drinking.
But some members of the police department, both publicly and privately, blame low morale and fear of investigation by Weis, a former FBI agent who took over in February.
"If I see a crime happening, I take action," said an officer who has more than 25 years on the force and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. "But I don't go out of my way to stop someone on a hunch or if they look suspicious. I don't want to be accused of racial profiling and run afoul of this guy who we know won't back us up."
Through the end of August, the department made 103,589 arrests (not including arrests for outstanding arrest warrants) compared with 117,971 for the same period last year, according to the department. The 5,600 guns recovered is roughly half as many as police seized in the same period in 2007, internal documents show.
Bookings in the Cook County Jail - where the vast majority of inmates come from Chicago - are down, too. In all but one month this year, the number of people booked into the jail was down from the same month a year earlier, sometimes by hundreds, according to data obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Chicago has had 322 murders through Aug. 21, or 42 more than the number committed through the same date last year. Also, police have received 10,000 more calls from people about shots being fired, and the number of calls about gang disturbances has jumped by nearly 4,000, according to the department documents.
"It is de-policing," said city Alderman Isaac Carothers, who heads the committee that oversees the department. "They do their jobs, but they don't do their jobs as aggressively."
Nobody is suggesting that the more than 13,000 officers in the nation's second-largest police department aren't racing to crime scenes or faithfully pursuing investigations.
But among the slew of statistics kept by the department are "self-initiated" calls, or those in which officers stop and question people about possible drug or gang activity. Department figures show the total is down by more than 3,700 from the same period last year.
At a City Council hearing in July, Weis called the rising crime figures and falling arrest numbers "very troubling."
Weis has said officers have told him they are afraid of being sued or becoming the subject of complaints by criminals. Weis has told their commanders to drive home the message that he wants them to be aggressive and that "the department will have their back," Bond said.
Brought in with a mandate from Mayor Richard Daley to repair the reputation of a department, Weis shook things up almost immediately.
The first outsider to run the department in decades, Weis replaced 21 of 25 district commanders. He created a new Bureau of Professional Standards, which oversees the Internal Affairs Division, the unit that investigates officers.
He also started talking about getting police officers in better shape and ordered those on desk duty to hit the streets.
In addition, he asked federal officials to investigate an officer who had already pleaded guilty to beating a handcuffed man shackled to a wheelchair and was serving a two-year suspension. That angered the rank-and-file.
They felt the officer "did something wrong and he paid his debt to society," Weisskopf said. "But it was as if that wasn't good enough, 'We didn't get our complete pound of flesh.'"
Since then, "guys feel the superintendent and the administration does not have their back," said John Pallohusky, president of the police sergeants union.
The mistrust grew after the department announced recently that every police car would be equipped with electronic tracking devices and officers would be asked to submit DNA samples at crime scenes.
"If you don't feel your bosses support you, are you going to stick your neck out?" Weisskopf asked.