Few positions in city government carry more importance than the superintendent of police.

Few positions in city government carry more importance than the superintendent of police.

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel cannot officially be a part of the process until he is sworn in May 15, but that doesn’t mean that the position isn’t part of his daily deliberations. He knows that the next police superintendent is a crucial hire, and will say quite a bit about how his City Hall will operate.

Emanuel was straightforward about not keeping former superintendent Jody Weis. He recognized that while crime statistics dropped under Weis, and there was an evidenced change in the culture of corruption that had permeated the police force, Weis had to go. The fact that the rank-and-file officers had no respect for Weis, an FBI agent who had never worn a Chicago policeman’s uniform, was a big factor. Police officers rejected his leadership and chafed under his department realignment.

Mayor Daley reached out to former superintendent Terry Hilliard to take over the position on an interim basis, a move that said much more about Daley than about Emanuel. Daley signaled that he was going to leave the position up to Emanuel, while having a comfortable face in the post for the next two months

The mayor-elect will cogitate long and hard, but he knows he has to make sure he mollifies the 10,000 officers who were almost unanimous in their dislike of Weis. That will probably mean that someone who is already wearing a Chicago uniform will get the post.

But we urge the new mayor to follow what has become his style over the past few months, and get out and listen to Chicago citizens about this important post. Yes, it is important to listen to the officers. But is even more important to listen to the citizens whom those officers swear to “protect and serve.” We urge him to pay attention to community groups for whom public safety is not only a job, but a life-and-death matter.

Yes, most crime is down, particularly violent crime. Some of that can be attributed to Weis’ efforts over the past three years. Some of it is the result of a demographic bubble that finds fewer in that criminal class. Some of it, hopefully, is a result of the community rising up and becoming a bigger part of the public safety solution.

The next superintendent will have to realize that his officers, as committed and finely trained as they maybe, cannot fight crime in our city by themselves, even fully staffed. They cannot be everywhere and see everything. They cannot be an effective deterrent if the community they are policing and protecting doesn’t trust them. Rebuilding that trust is probably the top job for the next superintendent – beyond adding officers or changing deployment. If citizens don’t trust they police, don’t think of the police as allies in the fight against crime, and don’t feel that police are there to “protect and serve,” crime might actually go down, but citizens won’t feel safe. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t want to go shopping in those neighborhoods, or send their children to school in those neighborhoods and businesses won’t want to locate in those neighborhoods and there won’t be any jobs in those neighborhoods.

Emanuel has been seeking out private citizens. He has formed transition panels and committees that promise to make a quality and diverse Chicago government, one that will live within its means but still provide quality services to its citizens.

He seems to be doing all the right things and he has stressed that he wants Chicago citizens to not only feel safe, but also be safe. His choice of a police superintendent should reflect that.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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