CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot is appointing former Dallas Police Chief David Brown as the new permanent superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, replacing Eddie Johnson, who was fired last December.
Lightfoot’s announcement comes one day after the Chicago Police Board released a list of three finalists for the position: Brown, CPD Deputy Chief of Patrol Ernest Cato III, and Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman.
Lightfoot called them “three outstanding candidates, saying Ziman “a woman of great talent and skill,” and Cato “a distinguished member of the Chicago Police Department,” but said Brown is her choice.
“In this time, for this moment, David Brown is the absolute best,” she said Thursday afternoon.
Lightfoot also called Brown “an expert in anguish” who has personally faced the tragedy of gun violence several times in his career.
His former partner was killed in the line of duty in 1988, and his brother, Calvin, was shot and killed by drug dealers in 1991. His own son, David Brown Jr., shot and killed a police officer in 2010, shortly after Brown became police chief in Dallas. The younger brown was then killed in a shootout with police. In 2016, a sniper killed five police officers in an ambush attack in Dallas.
“Death, especially gun violence leading to death, has come directly to David Brown’s doorstep, and draped itself around him,” the mayor said.
Saying that the hundreds of murders and thousands of shootings that plague the city each year are “eating away at the fabric of who we are, and who we should be,” Lightfoot said she is determined to fix the problem.
“Making Chicago the safest big city in the country is not some nicety, it is an imperative,” she said.
Lightfoot said Brown displayed “extraordinarily leadership” in his six years leading the Dallas Police Department, and said she was “totally committed to his success” at CPD.
“Because his success means the department’s success, and the department’s success means our city – each and every one of our residents – will enjoy the peace and prosperity that comes when streets are safe,” she said.
The mayor said Dallas and Chicago have many similarities when it comes to policing, and said he started bringing some changes to the Dallas police force years before Chicago embraced the same reforms, such as equipping all officers with body cameras. She also noted, under Brown’s command, Dallas was the first city to implement department-wide de-escalation training for officers, while also executg community policing initiatives, expanding mental health supports for officers, increased diversity in the ranks, and published never-before-released data on police use of force. The mayor said all those moves helped Dallas’ crime rate drop to 50-year lows.
“When Chief Brown took over as chief in 2010, that police department was facing many of the challenges that we are now, and he embraced the change and reform that was necessary to rebuild the trust with the community, and do it in a way that he brought officers along the journey. He never lost sight of the fact that the men and women who serve need to be supported,” she said.
Brown, who served on the Dallas police force for more than 30 years, said the desire to serve the public is a “a fire in my bones.”
“The call to service and to rise is one that is heard across the nation,” he said. “As any police officer tells you, it’s a call that crosses city lines, and transcends state borders.”
Brown, 59, said Chicago is a lot like his hometown of Dallas: “strong, proud, and tough; not to mention the great barbecue.”
Interim Supt. Charlie Beck, who has been running CPD since Johnson was fired in December, said “It has been a great honor to serve the city of Chicago.”
Beck said the selection of Brown as the next superintendent would be “historic” for the city.
“He’s a strong man with a good heart, who believes in public safety, and who believes in community policing. He will make a great leader, and he will make this department and this city much better than it is today,” he said.
The City Council will now have to confirm Brown as superintendent before he officially takes over for Beck.
Lightfoot choked up thanking Beck for his service to Chicago over the past few months.
“You came to us in our time of need,” she said. “I have no adequate words to express my personal gratitude for all you have given our city, and our men and women of the Chicago Police Department, but I will nonetheless say thank you for your service. Your imminent departure is indeed bittersweet.”
Brown will take over at an especially challenging time, not just because of the coronavirus pandemic, but because the department is under a court-monitored consent decree mandating sweeping changes to its practices and procedures regarding the use of force, as well as to the training and supervision of officers.
A scathing Justice Department report in 2016 found systemic abuses by the Chicago Police Department against minorities, including officers routinely using excessive force against African Americans and Hispanics.
Lightfoot said she considered Brown as a possible candidate for the top job at CPD as far back as December.
“The practical reality is, when you think about the second largest police department in the country, in a consent decree, and a lot of assets but a lot of challenges, there’s a small handful of people in the country that really are qualified to be able to take the helm as the superintendent of police, and certainly David Brown’s name came to me as I started having conversations with people across the country,” she said.
Brown, who retired as Dallas police chief in 2016, found himself in the national spotlight his last year on the force, 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. Brown served more than 30 years on the police force in Dallas before stepping down as chief in 2016.
“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.
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.
A total of 25 people applied for the position by the January deadline, and the board spent nearly four months reviewing applications and interviewing candidates before announcing the three nominees.
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 had 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.
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.
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.
Among the questions the candidates 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.”
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.
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, especially given the current coronavirus pandemic, 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.
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.