Sitting before Ald. Isaac Carothers’ City Council Police and Fire Committee, Police Supt. Jody Weis defended his officers’ performance this summer in the midst of a rise in the city’s murder rate.
But Weis acknowledged a need to beef up some policing tactics while also improving communications with city aldermen.
Appearing Tuesday before the committee, chaired by Ald. Carothers (29th), Weis noted Chicago has seen a 13-percent increase in murders since this time last year-a total increase of 256 killings so far in 2008. In the same time frame, police have seized 500 fewer guns, and there has also been a sharp decline in drug arrests, Weis added.
The superintendent, who’s been on the job less than six months, attributed these trends to multiple factors, including understaffing, scaled-back tactical units and a rising fear among officers of misconduct lawsuits.
“We’re not being as aggressive as we used to be,” Weis said. “Every day we work against the odds. It’s our mission to overcome them.”
Carothers called for Tuesday’s committee meeting in the wake of the highly publicized shootings on July 3, that occurred near the Taste of Chicago.
One person was killed and others injured in the late night downtown shooting that occurred blocks away from the Taste.
According to Weis, a total of 995 officers were deployed at the festival, compared with about 550 last year. There were also 23 tactical teams in place and an additional nine were called in on the day of the shooting, July 3, when attendance peaked at an estimated 1.2 million visitors.
Carothers maintained that the city’s rising crime rate could have more to do with poor enforcement techniques and miscommunication.
“It appears that all the figures are up, and it appears that the police are taking less initiative,” said Carothers, noting that even routine safety checks would make a difference in slowing the flow of drugs and weapons through Chicago neighborhoods.
Weis responded that without the help of well-trained tactical teams- such as the now defunct Special Operations Section-the department is less effective in disrupting gangs and other organized criminal operations.
The SOS unit was disbanded late last year following allegations of police corruption and brutality.
Weis and his deputies have proposed to replace SOS with a well-monitored Targeted Response Unit that would “act as a tourniquet” in preventing crime.
“We need very aggressive people to work it, but we need them to be professional and we need them to play by the rules,” said Weis.
Carothers, though, cited the shakeup among police district commanders Weis called for upon his hiring for some of the department’s low morale. Former 15th District Cmdr. Al Wysinger was among the 21 of the city’s 25 police district commanders reassigned.
Still, with the sweeping changes in his first five months in office, council members said further adjustments are needed to improve communication and help the department run more smoothly.
Despite raising serious questions about the department’s organization and approach to preventing crime, many aldermen expressed support for Weis and the police.
“Too often, the police are scapegoats,” said Ald. Edward Burke (14th), himself a former police officer. “No one should take our appearance here to be a lack of confidence among the City Council members.”
The aldermen also warned Weis that his job going forward is not likely to get any easier.
“Being the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department is like sitting on a stick of dynamite with the fuse getting shorter,” Burke said.