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Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis quits; Terry Hillard returns

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Embattled Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis resigned Tuesday on the final day of his three-year, $310,000-a-year contract — ignoring Mayor Daley’s plea to stay on through the inauguration of a new mayor in May.

A week after Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel reaffirmed his vow to dump Weis, the career FBI agent was apparently ready to pack up his office, leaving a mixed legacy of lower crime and plummeting morale among officers on the street.

In response, Daley asked former Supt. Terry Hillard to return as an interim superintendent.

Weis reportedly was willing to stay on, but demanded an extension in writing. That would have required City Council approval, which the lame-duck mayor was apparently unwilling to seek. Nor would the vote have been a sure thing.

“Serving as the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department has been an honor and a great privilege,” Weis said. “I thank Mayor Daley and the residents of Chicago for this opportunity of a lifetime.

“I firmly believe it would be selfish of me to continue in this position as I actively seek new career opportunities.”

Weis was hired away from the FBI in 2008 to restore public trust in a Police Department shaken by allegations of brutality, barroom brawls and a scandal in the disbanded Special Operations Section.

Daley was so determined to shake up the department, he handpicked Weis after ignoring the Police Board and its two national searches for a superintendent.

He handed Weis an unprecedented three year, $310,000-a-year contract to wear two hats: superintendent and chief emergency officer.

But five months after Weis moved to Chicago from Philadelphia, he was stripped of his second job. Daley moved Fire Commissioner Ray Orozco to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications and named Orozco as his quarterback at disaster scenes.

He was successful in his remaining job: fighting crime. Murder and other violent crime fell dramatically in his tenure.

He attributed the decrease to better mobilization of cops in high-crime neighborhoods. He also pointed to technology that predicts where crime will occur.

Weis made news last year with another novel approach to crime: He met with reputed gang leaders to deliver a message that they would get locked up if the killings continued in their neighborhood. Weis later said the strategy helped cut murders in the Harrison District on the West Side by 40 percent.

Still, high-profile ministers recently criticized Weis for failing to do more to redeploy Chicago beat cops from low-crime neighborhoods to high-crime ones.

As the first outsider in nearly 50 years to serve as Chicago’s police superintendent, Weis was viewed with suspicion from the beginning. From a morale standpoint, it’s been downhill ever since.

It wasn’t just his unprecedented salary that stuck out like a sore thumb. It was the rock-bottom morale among a rank-and-file reeling from a manpower shortage and a superintendent who they felt did not have their backs.

Weis’ most damaging move was his reaction to Officer William Cozzi, who was captured on a hospital surveillance camera beating a man shackled to a wheelchair.

After the video was posted on the Sun-Times’ website, Weis called the officer’s actions “deplorable” and vowed to “review the facts of the case before taking further action.” He wound up contacting federal authorities who obtained a civil rights indictment against Cozzi. The rank and file never forgave him.

Outgoing FOP President Mark Donahue said, “It drastically impacted morale. If he could do this to one individual based on the limited knowledge that he had, what do the rest of us have to look forward to?”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee, was one of the only aldermen to publicly urge the new mayor to renew Weis’ contract.

But last week, Emanuel reaffirmed his commitment to dump Weis.

“We have gone through a period of time where our superintendent and the Police Department have been back and forth with each other,” Emanuel said.

“Yes, the results show a reduction in crime. But we still have a murder rate on a per-capita basis in parts of the city double that in New York. We have made progress, but not progress enough. The statistics are true. The quality of life is not,” the mayor-elect said.

Emanuel said he would look for somebody who has the “trust and confidence” of the rank and file, and he made no commitment to choosing an insider.

The selection of Hillard as interim superintendent came as somewhat of a surprise. Hillard, 67, was superintendent from 1998 to 2003. He was known as a street cop and was popular with the rank and file.

Hillard’s appointment is temporary. He is expected to serve only until the Police Board conducts another nationwide search, presents three names to Emanuel and the new mayor picks one of them.

Hillard will take a leave of absence from his consulting firm and will temporarily end his business dealings, according to the mayor’s office.

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