Top 4 Chicago mayor candidates want new police chief

Rahm Emanuel said that if he's elected, he wants a "fresh start," which would mean selecting a new police superintendent

By Sophia Tareen
The Associated Press

CHICAGO — Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis, suddenly a target of all the leading candidates in the city's mayoral race, likely has just a few months left as top cop in the nation's third-largest city. But he's confident he accomplished what he set out to do when he took the job nearly three years ago.

The embattled police chief defended his tenure last week in a year-end interview with The Associated Press, as two mayoral contenders were calling for his replacement. On Tuesday, two more candidates — former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and City Clerk Miguel del Valle — said they too would not renew his contract when it expires in March.

Also among those lining up against Weis are some rank-and-file officers who've viewed the former FBI agent as an outsider. The chief's critics cite low morale in the police force and community frustration with both crime and the reduced number of officers deployed on the streets because of budget cuts.

But Weis disputes their reasoning, offering a list of improvements to the city since he arrived: Chicago crime is at record lows, even though the department is down about 1,000 officers; the department is no longer plagued by embarrassing on-camera incidents of cops behaving badly; and cutting-edge tactics to reduce future crime are in the works.

"Law enforcement is always battling perception," said Weis, a Florida native. "Some people will talk to a handful of people who are very much against me because I've changed the way we do business here. Our statistics show it was a good change. But if you talk to those people, there's going to be a rallying cry, `Get rid of Jody Weis.'"

Weis could not be reached for comment after Emanuel and del Valle made their statements Tuesday, but in his interview with AP on Friday, he said he would like to stay on the job.

"Everybody wants to say, `Are you looking for jobs?' I'm really not," he said. "I love this city. I've always said next to the mayor I think I have the second-best job in the city. I certainly hope to be in this position. We'll have to wait and see."

Weis said his only regrets over the past year have been the deaths of six police officers — five in the line of duty — more than any other law enforcement agency in the U.S.

"It's like a kick in the stomach," he said. "That takes its toll on any department."

Weis believes most of the criticism of him is due to politics, the police union and a small group of officers. After 23 years with the FBI, Weis was hired by Mayor Richard Daley in 2008 to restore the public's confidence in the department after allegations over excessive force and scandals with off-duty officers in barroom brawls and an elite drug and gang unit.

"If you try to really evaluate morale, it's going to be based on results," Weis said. "It's not going to be based on the minority loud vocal people of the particular unions screaming because I'm taking them out of their comfort zones. Perhaps there's an effort to get votes there."

He said declining crime is proof he's been effective and that officers are motivated. Chicago has its lowest murder rate in more than four decades and overall crime in the city has dropped each consecutive month over the past two years.

Weis credits new technology instituted during his tenure, such as computerized research that helps shift officers to neighborhoods with more crime. He also touted a so-called gang summit he held last summer, a meeting that generated major criticism and reflected just how difficult Weis' tenure has been.

Weis called reputed gang leaders to that meeting with top police and federal prosecutors to deliver an ultimatum to end killings. Although the tactic has been used for decades by police departments nationwide, Weis took heat from alderman who called it a "desperation tactic" and Gov. Pat Quinn who said Weis should focus more on getting guns off the streets.

Still, Weis said the summit was a success. He noted the department has arrested over 100 people in connection with the meeting and crime is down significantly in the district where the meeting was held.

Some of the most vocal criticism of Weis — including a protest outside his office last year — has been from officers. One complaint was how Weis handled the case of an officer convicted of misdemeanor battery after being videotaped beating a man handcuffed in a wheelchair. Shortly before William Cozzi was to return to work after a two-year suspension handed down before Weis arrived, the superintendent sent a video link of the incident to the FBI. Cozzi later pleaded guilty to a civil rights violation and was sentenced to federal prison.

Weis called the beating "one of the most outrageous acts I've ever witnessed" and said his actions sent a clear message to a police force known for brutal incidents, including another videotape shown around the world of Officer Anthony Abbatte beating a female bartender half his size. Abbatte was later convicted of aggravated battery in the 2007 attack.

Weis said all that has stopped since he took over.

"Let's go back to 2007, the last six months of that year were wracked with scandal after scandal after scandal," Weis said. "People being stupid, misconduct, dumb acts over and over again, that has a negative impact upon morale."

Associated Press
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