Top cop defends personnel moves, plans new tactical unit

Police Superintendent Jody Weis defended his sweeping reorganization of the department's top ranks yesterday, saying the move was necessary to change a culture that led to a series of misconduct scandals.

"I firmly believe that you're not going to make any type of change if you keep the same folks in place," Weis told City Council's police and fire committee.

Weis, who was sworn in earlier this year, has been criticized in recent weeks by aldermen upset over his handling of violence around the Taste of Chicago, the city's rising crime rate, and the reorganization.

Alderman Isaac Carothers (D-29), chair of the police and fire committee, said the shake-up has caused low morale and a drop in arrests.

"The way it's happened, all in one fell swoop, I think that had an effect on morale on the police department as a whole," said Carothers. "Those are people who the rank and file police had confidence in."

During the reorganization, Weis removed 21 district commanders as well as the heads of the patrol, detective, and strategic deployment bureaus. The superintendent said the changes allowed him to promote leaders like James Jackson, who is now first deputy superintendent, and Beatrice Cuello, now head of patrol.

"I wanted to bring in people who were right there in the trenches," said Weis. "They just came from busy tough districts. They knew what worked."

In response to criticism about the crime rate, Weis said he wants to create a new unit that will go after gangs, drugs and weapons in targeted hot spots.

The unit would be similar to the former Special Operations Section, an elite tactical unit that was disbanded in 2007 after members were charged with home invasion, kidnapping and aggravated assault.

Weis acknowledged the negative associations attached to SOS and attributed them to "lack of leadership" and "lack of centralized accountability."

The new unit would be "closely monitored," he said.

"They'll have more of a preventative violence approach," Weis said. "They're going to be going into the worst areas of the city, and I think by modifying their mission slightly and giving them a little more aggressive law enforcement techniques, it will make a difference."

He expects to have the new unit in place by fall at the earliest.

Weis acknowledged that arrest statistics "indicate that we're not being as aggressive as we used to be."

He blamed that on fall-out from the corruption and brutality scandals that predated his arrival.

"I have heard from many officers that there is a degree of timidness, if I might use that word, " said Weis. "Officers have told me: 'Hey, it's tough out there. I don't want to get sued.'"

The superintendant said he regularly emphasizes the importance of aggressive policing to officers.

"Don't be timid. If you're timid you're going to get hurt. Be aggressive, but do it in the right way. Be professional.  Be smart," said Weis.

Weis also defended his policing strategy at the Taste of Chicago. A deadly shooting at the outskirts of the event over the 4th of July weekend, in conjunction with disappointing crime statistics prompted Carothers to call for today's hearing.

On July 3, the department stationed 397 more officers at the event than on the same day last year, Weis said.

"When we did have that unfortunate event at the Taste, roughly a mile away from the Taste, the offender was apprehended within 41 seconds, and the weapon was recovered in that time too," said Weis.