Weis outlines plans for combating gangs, drugs

CHICAGO City budget cuts are limiting Weis to hiring 200 new officers next year.

Weis had a relatively easy time of it Friday as he confronted aldermen over the police budget. The last time he went before the politicians he was grilled over his command abilities.

Weis was still on the hot seat Friday, but his questioners were more forgiving as he explained how, in these days of shrinking budgets, less staff will not lead to more crime in Chicago.

Weis, approaching a year on the job as Chicago's top cop, explained to the council how as many as 800 vacancies on the force will not be filled this year. Instead, Weis will reorganize top brass and create a mobile strike force of 150 officers that he hopes will cut down violent crime by targeting gangs and guns.

"We're constantly expanding relationships with federal agencies that give us various statutes to attack the drug problem that we don't have in the state system," Weis said.

Weis acknowledged Chicago faces a challenge over its murder rate. In 2008, there have been 426 murders in Chicago. New York has had 417, and Los Angeles saw 302. Both of those cities are larger.

"New Yrok, it's up a little bit. In L.A., it is down. Indianapolis is up, Kansas City is up, here it is up," Weis said. "In other parts of the U.S., they are having different stories, so if there's ever been a year of a tale of two cities, I think it is 2008."

Eighty-five percent of Chicago's homicides happen in just 12 of Chicago's 25 police districts according to Weis. He plans to work strategically with information to tackle crime where it is concentrated .

"We need to focus on intelligence-based policing. We are not in a time when we can just throw more officers out throughout the city," Weis said. "We have to put officers on the right spots. We have to make sure they are addressing the right gangs."

Aldermen with high crime areas say that's all fine and good, but their constituents are scared.

"You can't convince the community of people that the police department is doing all that it can do to relieve us of this drug problem. And it is exacerbating every single day because kids are getting killed. They are dropping out of school to sell drugs, and it is a problem that has to be dealt with," said Ald. Ed Smith, 28th Ward.

"I think it is very thorough. All my colleagues asked very pointed questions about crime. We are all concerned about the murder rate. We want that to drop. We go through it line by line," said Ald. James Balcer, 11th Ward.

For 2009, there will only be about 200 new recruits sworn into the Chicago Police Department. And the overall police budget will be $1.213 billion - nearly $30 million less than two years ago.

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