A career FBI agent stepped gingerly into his new role as Chicago's top cop Thursday, pledging to rebuild public trust in a department tainted by brutality and corruption while assuring street cops that he has their back.
Mayor Richard Daley on Thursday tapped J.P. "Jody" Weis, the first outside superintendent in almost five decades, as he acknowledged that his police force has suffered from diminished public confidence.
Weis, 49, who climbed the ranks of the FBI, will face the delicate balancing act of having his officers fight violent street crime aggressively while demonstrating sensitivity to minority communities that view some officers as overly forceful and abusive.
"There are still too many neighborhoods in our city that are plagued by gangs, guns and drugs and where violence must be fought proactively day by day and block by block," Daley said at a City Hall news conference. "At the same time, because some officers have fundamentally abused their trust with the people of Chicago, public confidence in the Police Department has eroded. If we're doing all we can to lower crime in Chicago, people must have confidence that the Police Department is doing its job to 'protect and serve' them."
As he introduced himself to the city, Weis sought to balance his two imperatives of soothing a beleaguered police force and gaining the confidence of residents who distrust police.
Weis vowed to reach out to city neighborhoods and said he "will begin with those communities where we sense the widest gulf between the police and our residents."
"I will begin a dialogue that will be continuous," he said.
At the same time, he said he does not want officers "to shy away from assertive, quality, good policing, and assertive policing oftentimes will lead to complaints."
Depending on the nature of the offense, cops guilty of wrongdoing will face everything from retraining to prosecution, Weis said.
But "I think all too often we rush to judgment when we don't know all the facts," he said. For officers who "are doing their job and they are working within the framework of the law and the policies of this department, I will have their back 100 percent."
Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), who has been a critic of police abuses, was wary of the choice but said she was willing to give Weis a chance. She said he has "got to make it clear that he is not going to tolerate the abuse of citizens."
There is a difference between aggressive and rogue behavior "and he has to make it clear he understands that distinction," she said.
A minority candidate probably would have been "more attentive" to the need for a diversified command in the department's top ranks, Preckwinkle said. "But I will give the guy a break and see how he does."
Assuming City Council approval, Weis would be the first outsider to head the department in nearly five decades. He would be the highest-paid official on the city's payroll, with a $300,000-a-year salary that far exceeds the mayor's $216,210.
The last non-Chicagoan to run the department was O.W. Wilson, a respected criminologist from the University of California at Berkeley. That was in 1960, and the selection was by the mayor's father, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. Like his son, the elder Daley was faced with scandal. Eight officers from the old Summerdale police district were caught operating a burglary ring.