General

Arrested developments: Chicago Police vs. City Hall

Today’s column from the Kankakee Daily Journal and The (Ottawa, Ill.) Times

Arrested developments: Chicago Police vs. City Hall

The WISCH LIST

Sept. 18, 2010

I live in Chicago, where the taxes are outrageous, the politics crooked and the parking tickets plentiful.

And I live in Chicago, where the streets are clean, the public transportation convenient and the downtown as beautiful and vibrant as any I’ve visited.

For the former, I blame Mayor Richard M. Daley.

But for the latter? Well, I credit him.

Not unlike the city itself, Chicago’s longtime emperor, er … mayor – who last week stunned the state with the news that after six terms he’s turning in his scepter – is a mixed bag.

He’s the savvy politician that still mangles his words. He’s often maddening, yet almost always engaging. And while he’s transformed his hometown into a world-class showpiece, he’s also turned it into a financial boondoggle through countless sketchy city contracts and questionable deals.

With a budget crisis, a number of unfinished construction projects and the trick of navigating a political labyrinth that Daley has laid out like a Minotaur over the past two decades, Chicago’s next mayor undoubtedly will have his or her hands full.

But, for the sake of Chicago’s citizens, visitors and reputation, its next boss should make no issue more important than making peace between the Chicago Police Department and City Hall.

From July 2005 to July 2007, I worked full-time as a news reporter in Chicago and found myself (all too) regularly dispatched into violence-plagued neighborhoods on the South and West sides following yet another tragic murder or senseless shooting.

It was my job to interview the neighbors and relatives of victims, and what I always found in the worst areas of the city were so many good people living there. Worn down by the violence of their environment, they were desperate for assistance and answers. But as a young reporter armed only with a notepad, a pen and a deadline, all I really could provide were more questions.

I still don’t have answers, although to be fair, Mayor Daley has provided at least a few during his tenure. In 1989, when he first took office, Chicago had 747 murders. Last year, there were 458. Today, most of Chicago is very safe. But still, based on the ratio of crime to population, it remains more violent than either New York or Los Angeles.

This summer, three Chicago police officers were among those killed in the city, placing a brighter national spotlight on a problem already well known to locals.

I’m not sure that the intensity of the city’s violence is actually increasing – again, overall murders have dropped sharply the past 20 years – but it’s clear that the tension between Chicago’s rank-and-file police officers and their bosses certainly is. And that’s a situation that not only doesn’t help those living on the gang-ridden South and West sides, but also threatens the safety of residents and visitors citywide.

On Wednesday morning, a few hundred officers gathered at Chicago’s police headquarters to protest the leadership of Superintendent Jody Weis and call for his resignation. The officers’ discontent with Weis (whose contract runs through March 1), as well as with Mayor Daley (who saw more than 2,000 officers protest City Hall last year over labor negotiations), stems largely from the budget woes that have led to manpower shortages in the police department.

During the demonstration, officers toted signs reading, “More Police, No Weis” and “Simply Resign,” while at least one donned a T-shirt bearing Daley’s likeness and the message: “Worst Mayor Ever.”

That statement is debatable. The importance of a mayor resolving this worsening rift between the city and its police department, however?

It’s not.