Chicago police boss' 1st year saw major rise in violent crime
But Jody Weis says city's 2008 murder total will be among the lowest in decades
Brought to Chicago from the FBI to improve the image of a scandal-plagued Chicago Police Department, Jody Weis instead saw his first year as superintendent dominated by a substantial rise in violent crime.
Since being hired in February, Weis spent much of the year fighting to improve officer morale, battling with aldermen who disapproved of his rapid overhaul of the department's command staff, and trying to develop new strategies—or revive old ones—to fight rising crime.
When arrest numbers went down, Weis ordered officers to be more aggressive. He created a Mobile Strike Force to fight gangs, promising tight oversight of the unit since a corruption scandal had shut down the similar Special Operations Section before his arrival. He also recently promoted a former commander of SOS to be head of patrol.
Still, the city is approaching 500 homicides for the year, a number the city has not reached since 2003.
"We're certainly not pleased . . . and we're going to do whatever we can to bring those numbers down," Weis said.
Chicago is on track to end the year with a 16 to 17 percent increase in homicides and an overall increase in violent crime of about 3 percent. It's also in a tight race with New York City for the most homicides in the country. By Dec. 14, New York had 492 homicides, the same as Chicago's tally on Friday.
Still, Weis said Chicago's murder total for 2008 will be among the lowest in decades—the fifth lowest since 1965. He called the number 500 an "arbitrary bar" to which the department did not hold itself accountable.
"We didn't fit it as a goal when we ended this year," Weis said. "The goal is zero homicides."
Weis points to the usual suspects in rising crime: gangs, guns and drugs. Deputy Supt. Steve Peterson, the head of investigative services, said the dismantling of larger gangs may have contributed to more violence.
"Perhaps some of the violence has spiked because we've been successful at bringing down some of the leadership of the gangs, and now we've created infighting," he said.
In response, Weis has reorganized the gang units. Previously focused on districts, they now are based on larger areas so officers can respond to gang crimes that cross district lines.
He said he's also working on a "three-phase" approach: working with the community, denying gangs access to communities by aggressively stopping them, and making patrol and gang units work better together.
Weis said he hoped the shuffling of staff and jobs would bring reductions in crime in the new year.
"2008 was a year of transition, and 2009 is a year of results," he said. "There's no excuse next year for not knowing how your job works."
To deal with the department's image problem, Weis established an Office of Professional Standards to work on officer conduct and training, and brought in an FBI agent to lead it. Weis frequently says his standard for good conduct is that officers don't have to be right all the time, but they must be reasonable in their decision-making. Those who are, will have the department's support, he said.
Weis dumped nearly the entire district command staff within weeks of starting, then shifted commanders as the year wore on, and crime increased. Most recently he promoted Daniel Dugan, who worked as a deputy chief, to head of patrol. Dugan had been a commander of the Special Operations Section in at least part of the mid-2000s, when some wrongdoing is alleged to have taken place.
Weis said Dugan is a hard-working, dedicated leader, one of hundreds of SOS members who continue to work honorably as Chicago police.
"Dan Dugan is a solid leader; he has served this department for 26 years and, since becoming superintendent, I have seen his hard work and dedication to the men and women of this department," Weis said.
Dugan defended his time with SOS, saying only a handful of officers were accused of wrongdoing. He would not say whether he handled the complaints against those officers, citing their ongoing criminal trials.
"I've done a lot of soul searching. Was there something different or better I could do?" Dugan said. "I believe I made the best decisions I could at the time."
Dugan said a previous lack of oversight has been corrected, citing a new performance evaluation system that will "red-flag" officers with numerous complaints of abuse.
Weis declined to grade his first year in Chicago as the city's highest paid superintendent with a salary of $300,000.
He said his mistakes include not meeting enough police officers and not going out into the community more. He also said he had hoped to start a multicultural advisory committee, but it never got off the ground.
Plans for 2009 include working with the city to have patrol officers answer fewer non-emergency calls so they can focus on crime calls. Weis said he is pushing for more accountability in his new gang-fighting units, such as the Mobile Strike Force.