Battles await Chicago's new top cop

By James Kimberly, Noreen Ahmed-Ullah and Angela Rozas
The Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO As he prepares to take over as Chicago’s next police superintendent, J.P. “Jody” Weis, the FBI boss in Philadelphia, has pledged to rebuild the trust of people like Roshean Williams.

Standing with a few dozen angry residents in the City Council chambers late last week, Williams, 28, applauded police for positive strides in crime fighting but complained that many officers run roughshod over the people they are sworn to protect.

“Once they become desensitized, they become a threat to the community,” she said at the public meeting. “I can’t find the words to tell you how serious it is.”

Williams’ concerns exemplify one of the major challenges Weis faces: bridging the gap between an increasingly distrustful community he would serve and the beleaguered Police Department he would lead.

It is a gap not unfamiliar to Weis, who soon after assuming command of the FBI bureau in Philadelphia in May 2006 reached out to the city’s embattled Muslim populace while aggressively pursuing criminal cases in its community.

In Chicago, Weis is twice the outsider: He has never been a police officer and has lived in Chicago for just three years in the early part of the decade, when he worked at the FBI field office here. He is the first outsider picked to lead the Chicago Police Department in 47 years.

If approved by the City Council, he could be on the job by mid-January.

Though colleagues said last week that Weis is the right man for the job – a hard-nosed, dedicated lawman who never shies from a challenge – he will have to gain the trust of the second-largest police force in the country to be successful in his new post. At the same time, he must reach out to a community that in the last year has been jaded by numerous allegations of police misconduct.

In his first remarks after being named, Weis acknowledged the hurdle.

“I will be serving two groups of people,” he said. “I will be serving the Chicago Police Department with a great deal of enthusiasm and pride, but I also will be serving the community, and it’s a balancing act.”

Both community leaders and members of the Police Department expressed hope that Weis will bring change and offered suggestions on how to bring that about.

For police officers, that change starts with attitude. The department’s morale has plummeted, they said.

“Change is good, but if there’s one thing I’d want him to do, it’s to boost morale,” said a 12-year-veteran of the department who, like some others interviewed, asked not to be named.

Lt. Bob Weisskopf, president of the Chicago Police Lieutenants Association, said the department’s reputation has suffered recently because of the actions of a few. If Weis is a fair boss who treats his officers with respect, he will do well, he said.

“Truthfully, most police officers want to do their job,” Weisskopf said. “They want to be good police officers, and most of them are. With the right leadership, the right guidance, we can do that job.”

Weis needs to boost recruiting efforts, another officer said. Bringing in new faces with new attitudes might go far in correcting the department’s woes. Weis also should support officers in their new contract negotiations and adjust what officers described as an uneven distribution of manpower throughout the city.

“He should focus deployment of manpower in the districts where they’re needed,” said a 25-year-veteran of the department, who suggested that the new superintendent might seek to redraw police districts.

Weis received criticism from a segment of the African-American community that was disappointed a minority didn’t win the top post.

“I don’t think this is a good message sent to our community,” said Rev. Steve Greer Jr. of Christian Valley Baptist Church. “We needed a representative sensitive to the issues that African-Americans face and understand why we do what we do.”

Greer, whose church is in the North Lawndale neighborhood, said he hoped Weis would choose an African-American for his second in command.

Rev. Robin Hood questioned Weis’ effectiveness in his short tenure in Philadelphia, which has been battling abysmal homicide rates. Hood, pastor of Redeemed Outreach Ministries in the Englewood neighborhood, raised concerns about how Weis, who was accused of striking out at an FBI whistle-blower, could help the department address problems in its ranks. Weis has denied the accusation.

“We’re asking officers to turn in bad cops, and now we’re putting in a top cop who has a reputation of going against whistle-blowers,” Hood said.

Locke Bowman, legal director for the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern School of Law, said the new superintendent needs to ensure that the city’s new Independent Police Review Board, which investigates residents’ complaints against officers, is indeed independent of the Police Department. Weis also must strive for independence from Mayor Richard Daley’s administration, said Bowman, who has been involved in numerous lawsuits over police misconduct.

Tio Hardiman, a director at CeaseFire Outreach, an anti-violence group that faced state funding cuts this year, said Weis needs to reach out to the community, especially youth.

He called for Weis to set up an auxiliary committee to the Police Department made up of young community members to weigh in on police issues. A town hall meeting with residents in North Lawndale, Austin and Englewood would allow the new superintendent to talk directly with the community, Hardiman said.

Weis has done so before. While head of the FBI in Philadelphia, he organized a Multicultural Advisory Committee for agents to open communications in all corners of Philadelphia.

Marwan Kreidie, executive director of the Philadelphia Arab-American Community Development Corp., said Weis’ efforts helped him gain a strong relationship with the Muslim community even after the May arrest of six young men on charges of conspiring to attack Ft. Dix. Weis led that investigation.

“Without a doubt, we have had a very long and very good relationship with the FBI, and we’ve had a very good relationship with Jody,” said Kreidie, a member of the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society, where four of the six conspirators attended mosque. “He’s been at the mosque every time we’ve asked him to come. We’ve broken bread together, shared Ramadan dinners.”

Weis also established credibility with the community by prosecuting crimes against Arab-Americans. Under Weis’ command, the FBI helped win the conviction of a Philadelphia woman on hate-crime charges for slipping notes such as “Remember 9/11” and “You and your children will pay” under the door of her Arab-American supervisor at a Philadelphia hotel.

Copyright 2007 Chicago Tribune

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