CHICAGO (CBS) — Moving a step closer to finding a permanent replacement for ousted Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, the Chicago Police Board has nominated three finalists for the job: CPD Deputy Chief of Patrol Ernest Cato III, Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman, and former Dallas Police Chief David Brown.
Several police sources say Brown would be considered the top choice for top cop, because he has no ties to the current or past administration.
A total of 25 people applied for the position by the January deadline, and the board has been reviewing applications and interviewing candidates ever since.
Police Board Chairman Ghian Foreman said applicants were asked to make a detailed presentation of their qualifications, as well as their goals for the Chicago Police Department. The board also held three town hall meetings to hear from the public during the nationwide search for a new superintendent.
The hiring process has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but the board formally announced its nominees during a special meeting held by teleconference on Wednesday. Foreman said the board conducted in-depth interviews with nine candidates in January, and later conducted a comprehensive review of their backgrounds and accomplishments.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot now can either pick one of the three finalists to take over as full-time superintendent, or ask the board to come up with a new list of nominees. The City Council would have to confirm whoever she picks.
Ziman has been chief of police in west suburban Aurora since 2016, and is currently running the department from home, after testing positive for coronavirus. She has won praise for her grace under pressure during a mass shooting at the Henry Pratt Company factory in February 2019, when a former employee shot and killed five co-workers, and wounded six others, including five officers, before police killed the gunman.
Insiders say Ziman was being considered for superintendent as well as the Director of Public Safety position. In this role, if chosen, she would oversee OEMC, the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Fire Department.
Brown, who retired as Dallas police chief in 2016, also found himself in the national spotlight in recent years, after a sniper killed five police officers in an ambush attack in Dallas in 2016, and he ordered the use of a remote-controlled robot equipped with a bomb to kill the gunman.
“I very much think, that this is a time for an outsider, coming with fresh eyes and also coming with the courage and the ability to say, this is a new day and we are going to break from the past,” said Craig Futterman, Clinical Professor of Law at University of Chicago Law School.
Futterman has overseen the implementation of the consent decree that now exists over the Chicago Police Department, after patterns of civil rights violations were uncovered. “What’s most needed in the next superintendent is someone who has both the courage and the ability to rip off the Band-Aid. The courage to break the pattern of business as usual,” Futterman said.
Cato is a rising star within CPD, having risen from the rank of lieutenant in October 2017 to deputy chief last year. While a district commander from 2017 to 2019, he oversaw a 40% drop in total shootings.
Futterman said Cato could be looked upon as someone with an advantage, because he knows the city and the players, but what’s needed most in this moment, Futterman said, is someone who can create change. “It’s hard to imagine an insider, with 30 years in the department and someone who was close to the last superintendent and brings a similar orientation to the last superintendent having the will, much less the ability, to rip off the bandaid and break from the past,” he said.
Futterman said the next superintendent also has to have the courage to hold officers accountable when they abuse their power and to end the code of silence that leads to business as usual. The new superintendent, Futterman said, should welcome the community and outside scrutiny to help improve the department and make it what it needs to be.
Among the questions the candidates were asked, the board said they wanted to know about applicants’ commitment to respecting the city’s sanctuary city ordinance, which bars police from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal authorities.
“We got a great sense of commitment from all three of the finalists,” board member Jorge Montes said. “They were committed to respecting our city’s status as a sanctuary city.”
Lightfoot has repeatedly declined to speculate on who she might pick for the city’s next top cop, saying she won’t get ahead of the Police Board process. However, she has said she expects to choose someone from the board’s list, and has no intention of bypassing the board to name her own choice for the job, as former Mayor Rahm Emanuel did when he hand-picked Johnson for superintendent in 2016.
Johnson took the helm as superintendent after Emanuel rejected three finalists selected by the Police Board, and picked Johnson to replace former Supt. Garry McCarthy, whom Emanuel fired in the fallout from the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. The mayor convinced the City Council to temporarily change the rules for appointing a superintendent to put Johnson in the post without the charade of forcing the Police Board to come up with a new list of nominees.
Interim Police Supt. Charlie Beck, a former LAPD police chief who has been serving as the city’s top cop since Johnson was fired in December, has said he’s willing to stay as long as he’s needed but says he family hopes he can return to California as soon as possible.
“I hope that in the last four months you have come to know that I care about this city, and I would never leave it in a time of crisis like this,” Beck said last week, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.
Futterman cautioned the decision to name a new superintendent should not be made with haste, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Chicago. He said Beck should remain in place, during the crisis.
“The decision about who the next superintendent is going to be is probably the most important decision that is being made in policing Chicago, that can have impact for the next five, ten, or many many more years to come,” Futterman said. “It’s critically important that public and the community is fully involved in vetting, asking questions, meeting and being a part of this process. It’s difficult to imagine or envision a way in which while we’re in shelter in place, that that can happen.”
Lightfoot fired Johnson in December, accusing him of lying to her about the circumstances of being found asleep behind the wheel of his SUV last October. The city’s inspector general has launched an investigation into the incident.
Johnson was found asleep behind the wheel of his SUV early on Oct. 17, after he said he had gone out for dinner with a group of friends the night before. He later blamed the incident on a mix-up with his medication, but did not mention that he had been drinking before he fell asleep behind the wheel of his car. The mayor later revealed that Johnson had been drinking that night.
While the mayor declined to say exactly what Johnson lied to her and the public about, she said video evidence from the incident contradicted Johnson’s statements to her. Johnson was already getting ready to retire when Lightfoot fired him, and the police board had launched a search effort for a new top cop in November.
Lightfoot has declined to go into specifics about what Johnson lied about, “out of deference to his wife and children,” but sources told CBS 2 Johnson had been out drinking with a woman who was not his wife hours before he was found asleep at the wheel.