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Unrest builds slowly at Police Board hearing on new top cop selection

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy meets with the Sun-Times editorial board in 2014. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Demonstrations over police misconduct drove Mayor Rahm Emanuel to fire Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, so it was probably not surprising that signs were barred at a public hearing of the board that will help choose McCarthy’s replacement.

But even without signs, the crowd gathered Monday at Kennedy-King College grew increasingly restive during the two-hour session, the first of what board president Lori Lightfoot said would be several opportunities for citizens to weigh in on qualifications for the next police chief.

The chief’s job has been open since Dec. 1, when Emanuel fired McCarthy amid protests that followed the city’s release of video of police officer Jason Van Dyke pumping 16 bullets into 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

The crowd Monday night started out offering mostly polite applause, but about 90 minutes into the meeting, members of the audience joined in a chant of “16 shots” — the sole group display of outrage.

Given two-minute blocs to address the board, citizens filed up to the microphones, offering brief critiques of racist police practices, officer accountability, Emanuel, and the Police Board itself — more often than they gave suggestions for traits for the next chief.

“This meeting has made me sick,” said one speaker. “I’m looking at the mayor’s puppets. … At the end of the day what needs to happen is it should be in the community’s hands. We need to pick the new superintendent.”

Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor and city lawyer whom Emanuel also has named to head his task force on police accountability, said the panel has received several applications for the job as head of the nation’s second-largest police force. She did not name any of the applicants to date.

The Police Board, which also makes rulings in police misconduct cases brought by the department, will narrow the field to three finalists before Emanuel makes a decision on a chief. The application deadline is Friday, and Lightfoot said she hoped to have selected the finalists by the end of February.

“We are coming out to you tonight, We are coming out to you next week,” Lightfoot told the audience in response to a question about why the forum was held so close to the application deadline.

“The process for the selection continues. It doesn’t end on Friday. … The process of vetting and evaluation will continue.”

Pat Hill, a community activist who retired from the Chicago Police Department in 2007, was unimpressed by the meeting, complaining that the Police Board has held public meetings in the past in the wake of police scandals.

“It’s routine,” she said. “Nothing is going to come out of this. They’re going to chose who they want. They do these things to settle the masses, to make you think you have a say.”