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Reading between Jody Weis’ lines

Updated: August 13, 2012 2:07PM

If you read between the lines of former Police Supt. Jody Weis’ interview in Thursday’s Sun-Times with Pulitzer Prize winning crime reporter Frank Main, I think what you’ll see is another voice saying that what Chicago needs is to hire more police officers.

Weis doesn’t come right out and say that. He’s a savvy enough guy still trying to make a future for himself in this city that he’s not looking to make waves for either Rahm Emanuel or Garry McCarthy — especially as they wrestle with this year’s alarming spike in homicides.

When Weis says of the department under McCarthy, “The decisions I made might not be applicable now. Things change. Maybe he doesn’t have enough officers,” my translation is: He doesn’t have enough officers.

Naturally, that’s what I would think because that’s what I’ve been saying, and to be clear, I’m not talking about the 500 officers the department just announced it plans to hire this year — barely enough to keep up with expected retirements — but to hire enough to provide an actual INCREASE in police officers.

That’s what rank-and-file police officers have been telling us for several years now, dating back to when Weis was in charge, and throughout the whole rollout of the Emanuel-McCarthy “1,000 more police on the streets” shell game that we were told would be accomplished by taking officers out of desk jobs and putting them back on the beat.

The problem with that pledge — as everyone kept warning at the time — was that while McCarthy indeed did a good job of getting officers out from behind desks, the only way he could meet Emanuel’s 1,000 promise was to redeploy some 450 officers who were already on the street doing the sort of aggressive saturation police work that is credited with holding down the homicides during Weis’ tenure.

Now Chicago aldermen are clamoring for a return to Weis’ methods — much less appreciated you will recall during the time Weis was actually in charge, when many of them wanted more cops on the beat and the rank-and-file derisively referred the former FBI agent as J-Fed.

Weis handled the matter diplomatically in the interview, even explaining that
his approach was really just a refinement of the successful strategy undertaken
by his predecessor, Phil Cline, and explaining that this is not an either-or proposition.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion that you either have to have one or the other — just the beat officers or the specialized units,” Weis told Main. “...There’s a lot of good reasons to emphasize the beat officers. They will develop that rapport with the community. But if you have officers going from call to call, you need somebody to do that proactive policing.”

When it becomes an either-or proposition is when you don’t have the manpower to do both.

“There may not be enough officers to have specialized units,” Weis conceded. “That is a thing the administration has to look at.”

Let me digress to restate my philosophy on these matters. When crime spikes, I blame the criminals, not the police. Not the police superintendent. Not the mayor.

From what I can see, the mayor is doing most everything within his power to deal with the problem. He has made it very clear he knows the buck stops at his door. And I have no credentials to question McCarthy’s approach, except for the part where he tried to call this a “perception problem.” His ideas make sense to me.

That is, it all makes sense except for the dogged insistence that they have enough police officers to get the job done when the leading indicator suggests otherwise.

I’m not saying we necessarily need to recreate Weis’ Mobile Strike Force. Maybe we just need more officers assigned to McCarthy’s slimmed down, decentralized version of the strike force.

For the past four weeks now, up to 210 police officers per night have been brought in on overtime on their off days working Thursday through Monday to beef up the city’s response in crime hot spots.

The department calls this its Violence Reduction Overtime Initiative and stresses that it’s just temporary for the summer.

Although I’m sure the officers involved are glad to get a chance at drawing the time-and-a-half pay, it’s hard to see how this isn’t further confirmation of the need to enlarge the force, which has fallen below the 12,000 mark.

As Jody Weis would be the first to tell you, even when the city’s murder rate was better under him, it was still dismal.

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