Two black men and one white woman will vie to become Chicago’s next police superintendent — and the list of finalists doesn’t include Interim Supt. John Escalante.
Two outsiders and a Chicago Police veteran who’s been a runner-up once before are the Police Board’s top picks after a nationwide search that began with 39 applicants, most of them black males from outside the city.
The finalists are Cedric Alexander, public safety director of DeKalb County, Georgia; Anne Kirkpatrick, retired police chief of Spokane, Washington, and Deputy Police Supt. Eugene Williams, chief of the Bureau of Support Services, which serves as the administrative backbone of the Chicago Police Department.
“Whoever the next leader is has a huge, daunting task to win back the confidence of the people of Chicago. Each of these people in their own way have the ability to do that,” said Lori Lightfoot, president of the Chicago Police Board.
The Sun-Times first reported last month that Alexander emerged as a front-runner for the $260,044-a-year vacancy created Dec. 1 when Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
Lightfoot would not voice a personal preference but described Alexander, 61, as “charismatic” and a “quick study” whose stint as a practicing clinical psychologist would help him rebuild public trust shattered by the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
With a federal civil-rights investigation of the police department likely to culminate in the hiring of a federal monitor, Lightfoot touted Alexander’s experience in dealing with scandals while public safety director of DeKalb County outside Atlanta and when he was security director for the Transportation Security Administration at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
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“There’s a huge difference between arrogance and confidence. He’s a confident guy with a history of bringing people together in very difficult circumstances,” she said.
Responding to written questions from the board, he said he would make officers accountable for their actions.
“General George S. Patton once said ‘the only discipline is perfect discipline.’ My belief is that the only accountability is perfect accountability — without any winks or nods.”
Alexander served on President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and is a regular commentator for CNN, where he’s made fans and enemies for his opinions on law enforcement. Someone even created a Facebook site called “No More Cedric Alexander as a CNN Police Accountability Expert.”
Kirkpatrick, 56, is a surprise choice. A Memphis native and a trained lawyer and counselor, she was chief of several small-town departments in the state of Washington.
In 2006, she was hired as the top cop in Spokane, a city of about 210,000 people in eastern Washington. Under her leadership, a Spokane cop was convicted of using excessive force for the fatal beating of an unarmed janitor and for lying about it to investigators. On Nov. 2, 2011, the U.S. Justice Department released a statement saying there was “an extensive cover-up” of the crime.
Kirkpatrick retired in 2012 at a time of “low morale and deep division in the department,” the Spokane Spokesman-Review wrote.
She then became second-in-command in the King County Sheriff’s Department in Seattle. She had “the experience and credentials every city in the country looks for in its police chief,” the sheriff wrote at the time. She left in 2014 after a scandal blew up involving a deputy sheriff who was later convicted of promoting prostitution.
Kirkpatrick currently is an instructor with the FBI’s Law Enforcement Executive Development Association in the Seattle area. She was invited to speak to legislators last year as an expert on ways to reduce officers’ use of lethal force.
In September, she was an unsuccessful finalist for the top police job in Fort Worth, Texas. “I do know the storms, and leadership is determined in the storms,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram quoted her as saying. “I will stand behind my officers, but I will not tolerate egregious officer misconduct.”
Lightfoot said she was impressed Kirkpatrick excelled in a profession dominated by men. “She’s still a woman in a profession that his overwhelmingly male and macho. And she has been successful in that environment,” Lightfoot said.
Although Spokane is a small town compared to Chicago, it has many of the same urban policing challenges, Lightfoot said. Kirkpatrick went in with a “mandate to clean things up — and did just that,” Lightfoot said.
“When she retired from the Spokane Police Department, her retirement party was thrown in a black church there. What we heard from a number of people is that she had an uncanny ability to meet people where they were, build trust, even with people who, at face value, would be very different from her.”
Lightfoot said Kirkpatrick aced her 2½-hour interview with the Police Board because she did her homework about Chicago. “She understood our neighborhood structure,” Lightfoot said.
In written responses to the board’s questions, Kirkpatrick said cops should have the “mindset of being ‘guardians, not warriors.’ ”
Williams, 62, isn’t a surprise finalist. He was a runner-up in 2011 and is one of the longest-serving members of the Chicago Police Department’s command staff. In a department with a shortage of upper-management talent after retirement waves under McCarthy and predecessor Jody Weis, Williams stands out as a shining star.
Lightfoot denied that Williams, known for close ties to black ministers, was a throw-in aimed at appeasing rank-and-file officers at a time when homicides are up and morale has sunk.
“Certainly there’s an argument that somebody who’s been with the department as long as Gene has been can’t possibly make the changes. And frankly, that was a question that we put directly to him,” Lightfoot said. “Our takeaway was that he not only has the fire in the belly, but the determination to make the changes that are necessary.”
In a response to written questions, Williams said he would eliminate McCarthy’s strategy of putting 19 small “impact zones” in high-crime areas, each staffed by 20 rookie cops on foot. Williams said he would redeploy those 380 rookies to ride with seasoned officers to respond to more calls for service.
“Tens of thousands of calls go unanswered,” he wrote.
He said the department does a good job with recruits in teaching them to shoot, write reports, handcuff suspects and other tactics.
“I don’t believe we do as good a job when it comes to integrity and interacting positively with the public,” he said.
Privately, Emanuel has told associates the next superintendent must be an African-American to restore public trust shattered by the McDonald shooting video. Publicly, the mayor is non-committal. Asked if a Chicago Police insider can rebuild trust, he said, “I’ve got to talk to them. I’ve got to look them in the eye. I’ve got to hear the way they answer questions. You’ve got to get a sense of the person.”
Under the law, Emanuel must choose from among the three finalists or reject the names and ask the Police Board to conduct another nationwide search. But Lightfoot refused to entertain the possibility of starting over.
“We have engaged in a very thorough, very thoughtful, very long, detailed process. And we are not doing it again any time soon,” she said.