A "bizarre" appointment | Bleader

Friday, November 30, 2007

A "bizarre" appointment

Posted By on 11.30.07 at 05:22 PM

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You could say that as a clergyman, Reverend Marshall Hatch is in the business of hoping. And before Thursday, he'd been hoping for signs that the Chicago Police Department was headed in a new direction. When interim police superintendent Dana Starks disbanded the maligned Special Operations Section a few weeks ago, Hatch saw it as an encouraging step.

Of course, Hatch has also engaged in some politics from time to time--he once ran unsuccessfully for 29th Ward alderman against Ike Carothers, and he's now a primary force behind the Leaders Network, a new alliance of "independent" clergy promising to speak out on policing and other city policies impacting African-American neighborhoods.

So he was hardly surprised--or impressed--to get a call Thursday from an aide to Mayor Daley who serves, as Hatch puts it, as "their negro preacher liaison whose job it is to find out what the fallout has been" from various decisions out of City Hall. This time the aide wanted to tell Hatch, an outspoken critic of police misconduct, that the mayor was naming a new police superintendent: career FBI man J.P. "Jody" Weis.

"They wanted to find out what some of us were thinking in the community," said Hatch, pastor of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on the west side. "At the time, we didn't know what to think."

Hatch said he was floored to learn that the next superintendent has never run or helped run a police force before, and that Daley bypassed the recommendations of the Police Board, the civilian advisory body charged with vetting superintendent candidates, as law requires. "It's a bizarre appointment," Hatch said. "It does nothing to address the number one issue: the crisis in confidence and trust in the African-American community. . . . There is no reason for anybody to be any more clear about the direction of the police department today than the day before yesterday."

Weis vowed Thursday to reach out first to the neighborhoods with the "widest gulf between the police and our residents." Hatch said he would welcome leadership that genuinely seeks input from his community. "But if he expects that some meetings and conferences will be enough, he's sadly mistaken."

Like other police critics and watchdogs, Hatch believes several reforms are needed immediately: a fully independent Citizen Review Board should oversee police misconduct investigations, a citizen representative should participate in the "roundtable" discussions held by law enforcement officials after cops shoot civilians, and beats should be realigned so that more officers are assigned to high-crime areas. The first two reforms couldn't be made by the police superintendent alone, but Hatch said he'd like to hear Weis back them publicly. "He said yesterday that he had the backs of police officers, and he should sent a statement to citizens that our backs are covered as well."

He called on aldermen to ask Weis some tough questions before signing off on his appointment. "He has not been very properly, publicly vetted, and there ought to be some real hearings here," Hatch said. "We should find out more about who he is, what his plans are, and whether he understands the firestorm he's walked into."

"We would expect the City Council to do its job," he said.

That's either an attempt at political pressure or a reminder that hope in things already seen is not hope at all.

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