By SAM RAPPAPORT
Friday, Jan. 15, marked the last day that the Chicago Police Board accepted applications for the position of Chicago Police Department (CPD) Superintendent. The Police Board, the quasi-judicial, civilian group responsible for investigating police misconduct, is spearheading the search for a new chief of police and will provide Mayor Rahm Emanuel with three personnel recommendations in February.
On Tuesday, Jan. 12, members of the Chicago Police Board, including its president Lori Lightfoot, heard feedback from Chicago residents on the desired attributes of the new head cop. The event took place in the crowded auditorium of Kennedy-King College, 6301 S. Halsted St., and at times dissolved into chaotic, heated exchanges between community residents and members of the Police Board.
WVON news anchor Dometi Pongo, who acted as moderator for the evening, began the proceedings on an optimistic note.
“This is already a breakthrough,” Pongo said. “It’s the first time that the community has been included in such a discussion.”
However, the evening showed that many Chicagoans remain skeptical of the Police Board’s ability to influence positive change. Community members pointed to the fact that the Police Board is mayor-appointed as reasoning for their disillusionment.
Later in the week, State Representative Barbara Flynn Currie (25th) and State Senator Kwame Raoul (13th) shared comments on the superintendent hiring process that reflected many of the sentiments voiced by the public at last Tuesday’s hearing.
“This lack of trust has been a long-term problem,” Currie said. “We need a superintendent that has shown that they have the ability to engender trust and that they have the leadership skills it takes to have police officers change around their attitudes.”
Speaking on the shortcomings of former superintendent Garry McCarthy, Currie said, “He just didn’t take seriously enough the fractured relationship between ordinary people in the community and the police department.”
Raoul asserted that the new chief of police must be prepared to confront pushback from within the police department.
“We need someone who has the courage to stand up to the forces within the department that might be resistant to systemic change,” he said. “The notion that someone has to confront that resistance doesn’t necessarily mean that, that person will come from outside the department, but they will have to challenge certain unwritten policies.”
One such unwritten policy is the practice of police roundtables, Raoul said, which often take place after occurrences of misconduct and serve to frame the facts of an incident in the light most favorable to the officer.
“I think it’s important to note that police officers are human, and they make mistakes as a result,” Raoul said. “But an environment has been created where law enforcement is fearful of being honest about mistakes, and that environment is worsened by the fact that some of these incidents are not mistakes, but intentional acts of misconduct. If you’re going to accept that it’s okay to cover up a mistake instead of educate the public on the reality, then you’re going to engage in covering up misconduct.”
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) also shared her thoughts on the matter.
“We need to have somebody that knows the city, we can’t keep starting from scratch,” Hairston said.
She commented on a question she said she’s rarely heard raised in the process of searching for a new superintendent.
She said, “One of the things I never hear is ‘I’d like to see a female superintendent.’”