It was almost inevitable that Jody Weis would depart his position as superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, though yesterday’s announcement was sudden. Practically since his arrival, or at least since his controversial reshuffling of department leadership immediately thereafter, Chicagoans have heard reports of "low morale" at the CPD, though Mayor Daley says morale has nothing to do with it, leaving us with one of the better quotes of his tenure: "everyone has morale problems."

What happened? The Sun-Times piece on Weis’s announcement has a good summary of some of the reasons for the reported morale problems, particularly his response to the William Cozzi indcident, which came up first in a harsh letter from the FOP subsequent to a more general protest. Reporters Frank Main and Fran Spielman call the Cozzi affair Weis’s "most damaging move," but constant complaints about manpower hurt Weis’s reputation as well.

The article notes that Weis was the first outsider to run the CPD in 50 years. The last import was O.W. Wilson, who was the superintendent from 1960 through 1967. Like Weis, Wilson came in to reform the department in the wake of a scandal: for Wilson it was Summerdale, for Weis it was SOS and Anthony Abbate. Like Weis, Wilson stepped into a big contract: $7,500 more than his predecessor ($56,000 in 2011 dollars), for three years (which required legal maneuvering and the personal financial assistance of selection committee members to put in place). Unlike Weis, Wilson started as a beat cop and had run two city police departments, and was widely considered to be the nation’s top expert on policing.

And Wilson faced dramatic opposition from the rank-and-file. Like Weis, he was the subject of a high-profile letter of criticism from a cop that briefly dominated the headlines (well, in Weis’s case it was a blog post), and like Weis, he was also the subject of a protest, though Wilson’s dwarfed that of Weis: 6,000 strong, an overflow crowd objecting to "legislative proposals approved by Mayor Daley and Supt. O.W. Wilson which would by-pass present civil service procedures in disciplinary matters" (Chicago Tribune, February 28, 1961).

But Wilson was a rainmaker. According to his biographer, William J. Bopp*:

Wilson’s ability to achieve his reform objectives was directly related to his skill in selling his budgets to the Police Board, the City Council and the mayor. His success in this regard was phenomenal. His 1966 budget of $103 million represented an increase of more than $12 million over the previous budget, and an almost $32 million increase over the 1960 budget.

Bopp also notes that previous commissioners used to give back unused money at the end of the fiscal year to the city to curry favor with politicians. Wilson spent it. He improved the CPD’s shabby infrastructure and overhauled the department’s sorry radio communications (two radio frequencies for the entire city, according to Bopp, leading to three hour waits for patrol cars to respond)–the sort of carrots Weis lacked the budget to offer.

More from the dept. of the more things change: This is from a 2003 Tribune piece on Terry Hillard, Weis’s possibly temporary replacement:

In recent months, though, rising dissatisfaction with the homicide rate here has brought new attention to crime-fighting. In 1998, Hillard invited political heat by proposing a superb means of attacking Chicago’s nexus of gangs, guns and drugs: the redeployment of officers to districts where they’re most needed to battle violent crime. Faced with opposition from aldermen in the city’s safest, often whitest districts, City Hall has settled on less drastic but similar strategies, including the rapid deployment of special response units to target high-crime areas.

* Author of O.W.: O.W. Wilson and the search for a police profession (Kennikat Press, 1977). It’s the only biography I’ve found of Wilson–it’s short, but dense with information–which is something of a surprise given not only Wilson’s tenure as CPD superintendent but his stature as one of the most important criminologists of the 20th century.


Photo: Chicago Tribune