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Can Cameras Replace Cops?

No one can say for sure why murders and violent crimes are on the rise in Chicago. But some criminologists are questioning why the new police superintendent, Jody Weis, is moving away from proven community policing strategies.

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“We have to be creative because the criminals are creative,” says Supt. Jody Weis of his push for more so-called “intelligence-led policing.”

Daley officially hired Weis in November 2007, luring the muscular Florida native away from the FBI with a $310,000 salary and the presumptive mandate to clean up the department, polish its battered image, and rebuild its relationship with the community. The mayor’s unorthodox move was questioned almost immediately. “There are police officers out there who have made more arrests in one year than the average FBI agent will make in his entire career,” says Bob Weisskopf, president of the Chicago Police Lieutenants Association. “To be held accountable by someone who the bulk of the department feels is less of a police officer, well, that kind of gets them upset. Morale is as bad as it’s ever been.”

At the same time, Weis’s order to clean up the department grated on some cops, who claimed to worry that the new administration would be reluctant to support an officer who wasn’t operating strictly by the book. “There is more of a hands-off policy to the public than before,” says Mark Donahue, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Narcotics arrests are down; traffic stops are down.”

After deadly shootings at last summer’s Taste of Chicago, aldermen blasted Weis at a special city council hearing in July, particularly criticizing his decision to replace 21 of 25 district commanders. The housecleaning—presumably aimed at repairing the department’s reputation—removed much of the police leadership that saw murder rates drop between 2003 and 2007. “Some of the moves just didn’t make sense,” says Carothers. 

Cuts to the community-policing program received less attention from the aldermen, perhaps because its mission and results are harder to quantify. How do you measure whether a relationship is working and how can you explain such a thing to a City Hall bean counter? “CAPS is a long-range, proactive prevention strategy,” says Carl Bell, a violence prevention expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “But the problem is that you might not see the fruits of your labor for a year or two. Prevention is always the first thing to go.”

Weis says the cuts have made CAPS more efficient, especially because plans call for sergeants to attend every meeting. “Now, you have decision makers there,” he says. “When they hear about a problem, they can address it with the community.”

Predictably, the cuts were blamed on the city’s $469-million budget deficit, but the new no-overtime policy suggests that more is at play. Though overtime expenses fluctuate, the cost of sending extra officers to CAPS meetings has been between $600,000 and $1.5 million a year, a small piece (0.125 percent) of the police department’s $1.2-billion budget. What’s more, the city is spending money elsewhere. Weis has announced plans, of course, to install $5,500 cameras in hundreds of police vehicles. In early December, the city signed a $59.2-million contract with a suburban dealership to buy Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs, with the plan to phase out squad cars.

Has “the budget” become just an easy way to explain a new policy that moves the police department away from community policing? Criminologists have wondered whether Weis’s FBI background tilts him toward a more military-style organization and a dependence on technology. “Working in the FBI is dramatically different from running a police department,” says Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago professor who studies Chicago law enforcement. “This aggressive, military style could be a result of the fact that Weis doesn’t understand the situation he’s in. So he’s going with what he knows.”

Last April, Weis ordered something akin to a paramilitary assault on crime: helicopter patrols of South and West Side neighborhoods and, on the ground, officers dressed in full riot gear. Weis has also floated a plan to equip officers with M4 assault rifles, a weapon used by the U.S. Marines.

Some criminologists argue that Weis is moving the department toward so-called professional policing, an approach popular in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s and inspired by theories that cops performed more ethically, efficiently, and safely when they minimized their interactions within the community. “The FBI, to my knowledge, has never been about community partnerships,” says Lurigio, the professor from Loyola University. “Their work isn’t about reaching out to people and building relationships with the community.”

One of the ramifications of this type of professional policing is, potentially, a one-sided police department. “I don’t believe that you can go one direction or the other, either heavy-handed enforcement or softer policing,” says Lurigio. “Why does it have to be one or the other? There is no evidence that technology alone makes a difference in the crime rate. You use the tools that work under the circumstances. You need a big toolbox to be effective in a big, complicated city like Chicago.”

Weis insists that he supports community policing and says his goal is to blend programs like CAPS with intelligence-led policing that is technology driven. “If we cultivate the type of relationships that I want to have with the community, if the trust is built up and the public feels confident that they can pick up the phone and call a policeman, they can point us right to where the crime is,” Weis says. “If you look at intelligence policing, a key component of that is the community, and community involvement.” Nonetheless, the emphasis on technology seems to be taking hold.

Photograph: Taylor Castle

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