Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Weis says cops worry about suspensions

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
Embattled Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis emerged unscathed from a day-long City Council inquisition today, but not before disclosing a troubling trend: Police officers are being less aggressive as violent crime rises because they’re afraid of piling up citizen complaints.

“I think he’ll survive — and he should,” said Police Committee Chairman Isaac Carothers (29th), who put the rookie superintendent on the hot seat.

Standing alongside Carothers, Weis said, “This has been made out to be confrontational-type thing —and it wasn’t. I don’t mind tough questions. The city … has the right to ask tough questions — especially when our crime is up nearly 13 percent. I’m not happy with that. I’m gonna do everything I can to bring it down.Ó

Weis acknowledged the contradictory trends of rising crime and less aggressive policing under Perry Mason-style questioning from Carothers.

The alderman recited a string of statistics that Weis did not challenge. Compared to this time last year, Chicago has had 28 more homicides, 2,626 more gang disturbances, 1,210 more reports of a person with a gun, 7,136 more reports of shots fired and 473 more reports of narcotics sales.

With crime indicators headed upward, police should be more aggressive, but the opposite has occurred. Gang loitering interventions are down 1,163, narcotics loitering interventions have dropped 2,329, and police have taken 500 fewer guns off Chicago streets.

Carothers (29th) called it "de-policing," a condition that exists when officers Òstop doing their jobsÓ because they're afraid nobody has their back.

Weis took issue with the term. But he acknowledged being so concerned about the drop in arrests, he recently exhorted over 100 police officers to pick up the pace and "take back street corners" from gangs that refuse orders to disperse.

"I have heard from many officers that there is a degree of timidness -- that people are not maybe as engaged as they should be because of fears of lawsuits, fears of [complaints registered] being put against them by criminals and by other folks who are just trying to impugn their integrity," the superintendent said.

To reverse the trend, Weis said he has directed his command staff to "go out to roll calls to try and re-instill the confidence that we are here for our officers and to ask them to aggressively police." But he said, "I'm not naive. When officers have told me, 'It's tough out there. I don't want to get sued,' it's not unreasonable to believe that some officers might not be as aggressive as we need them to be."

Carothers blamed low morale that nosedived after Weis ordered an unprecedented housecleaning that swept out 21 of 25 district commanders and nearly all of the Police Department's top brass.

A career FBI agent brought in from the outside, Weis argued that you can't change the culture of an organization by leaving the same people in place and that change is better made "all at once."

Carothers summoned Weis to appear before his City Council committee to address the citywide surge in homicides and other violent crime that boiled over at Taste of Chicago. That's when four people were shot, one fatally, as the crowd from the city’s annual July 3rd concert and fireworks show was dispersing.

Today, Weis reiterated the policing plans tipped to aldermen during private meetings last week, as first disclosed by the Chicago Sun-Times.

He’s hoping to develop a methodology by the end of this year to realign at least some police beats or districts to get more officers into high-crime areas. And he plans to resurrect a "better trained, better supervised" version of the disgraced and disbanded Special Operations Section by changing the focus of so-called Targeted Response Units.

"I know there's a lot of negative things associated with that. But, not the concept. That was a very aggressive enforcement group that would go out and take weapons off the street and arrest a lot of bad guys. The failings were in, perhaps, a lack of leadership and a lack of centralized accountability. But the concept was strong,” he said.

As for the Taste debacle that infuriated Mayor Daley, Weis disclosed that there were 995 officers assigned there July 3, including 23 tactical teams and nine more added at the first sign of trouble.

That’s 399 more officers than were assigned to secure the annual fireworks show last year.

“We had never seen large groups of individuals coming in like that. … There’s too many people inside of a small area. Next year, we’re gonna see if we can limit that and control the access,” Weis said.

Ald. Sharon Dixon (24th) said she’s tired of the media’s laser-like focus on the Taste shootings when Lawndale residents are living in constant fear. She was not alone. Aldermen from across the city complained about rising crime and shortage of manpower.

“What happened at Taste happens every day where I live — every single day. If we were addressing the issues in the communities [like Lawndale], it probably wouldn’t escalate to the Taste,” Dixon said.

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