Aldermen grill top cop nominee

Aldermen today grilled the former FBI agent appointed to lead the  city Police Department about how he would restore public trust in an agency plagued by corruption, officer misconduct and racial tension.

Jody Weis, a career FBI agent from Philadelphia, also faced questions from the City Council's police and fire committee on a host of issues ranging from his plans for improving diversity in the department to his $310,000 salary.

The committee approved his nomination, and the full City Council will vote on whether to confirm him Wednesday.

Meanwhile, battle lines are being drawn by black aldermen who want to see a minority in the position of first deputy commissioner. Weis, who will also head the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, said he plans to rely on his first deputy to oversee day-to-day police operations.

Weis began the hearing by promising to restore confidence in a department whose image has been badly tarnished by rogue cops. In February a surveillance camera caught an off-duty police officer beating a woman in a bar. In April off-duty police officers were accused of beating four businessmen in a barroom brawl. The city recently settled a lawsuit in the wake of decades of allegations of torture.

"As Mayor Daley has said, and I agree, there is no place in the Chicago Police Department for misconduct in any form, at any time," said Weis in a prepared statement. Abuse of the public's trust ... will not be tolerated."

Weis said that his status as an outsider and his experience in the FBI will help him deal with the department's problems.

"The police department has an image problem right now. The one thing the FBI has always done well is policing itself. We have a very strong institutional integrity," said Weis.

Weis also pointed out that as assistant special agent in charge of Chicago's field office from June 2000 to March 2003 he had managed that office's public corruption investigations.

In response to repeated questioning on how he would correct police misconduct, Weis said he would take a multi-pronged approach, but that it begins "from day one."

"Internal investigations need to be done very accurately and need to be done in a timely manner," said Weis. "And you need to address minor violations earlier on. You need to make sure officers aren't making minor violations and they're letting them slide. This will help to prevent egregious violations in the future."

Weiss said he would lean heavily on the district commanders, whom he called the "moms and dads" of the department, to police their ranks and ensure accountability.

But Weis backed off from the idea of publishing the names of officers who accumulate multiple complaints of misconduct, as a group of black aldermen on the council have demanded.

"I think you have to look behind the numbers," said Weis. "Those ten complaints filed against someone maybe be totally unsubstantiated, or may have been filed by criminals to hurt an officer's reputation."

He did say that he would be interested in working with the newly created Independent Police Review Authority to see what patterns emerged from the complaints.

Weiss faced intense questioning from several black aldermen in the council who criticized the department's lack of diversity and its failure to promote black cops.

"There is racial profiling going on, not just in the streets of Chicago, but within the department itself," said Alderman Michelle Harrison [D-8].

Willie Cochran [D-20] said few black officers are promoted, which causes a morale problem.

"We have 1200 detective slots, and less than 90 of them are African Americans," said Cochran. "If I'm a patrol officer how if I was to advance--how do I feel satisfied with my job?"

Others who spoke at the committee meeting expressed concerns about Weis's ability to reach out to the black community.

"Tensions are high. I wouldn't want Mr. Weis to be misled into thinking that the tensions have dissipated. We will be looking very critically at who the first deputy will be," said Rev. Marshall Hatch

Future conflicts about resource allocation were already shaping up, as many aldermen bemoaned the shortage of cops in their districts and called for beat realignment.

Weiss said that his decisions about assigning manpower would be driven by the incidence of violent crime. "At the end of the day I'm going to go with where the bodies are," he said.

Alderman Freddrenna Lyle [D-6] expressed skepticism that Weis's background had prepared him for the gangs and drug-related violence that plague many of Chicago's wards.

"You seem to have more of a track record on terrorism issues," said Lyle. "I want somebody to stop the bad guys on my block."

In response to queries about his $300,000 salary, Weis said that in addition to heading two agencies in Chicago he would be foregoing health benefits and a pension at a job that he said would probably last only four to five years. He also noted that he would be sacrificing seven percent of the pension money that he would earn if he stayed with the FBI, the organization to which he had devoted his career.

"The salary was for me to leave the FBI," he said. "It was going to take a package like that to make me leave."

Weiss promised the committee that, if confirmed Wednesday, he will present a more detailed plan for the police department within three months. He also said he hopes to appoint his deputy commissioner within two to three weeks.