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Top-cop finalist ‘well-liked’ but too confident for some

Cedric Alexander had been considered the front-runner to become Chicago Police superintendent. | Getty Images

Cedric Alexander, the front-runner in the search for Chicago’s next police superintendent, is getting glowing reviews from everyone from the head of the Chicago Police Board to a county commissioner who worked with him in suburban Atlanta.

They all praise his confidence.

But one activist Atlanta pastor disagrees with the hoopla surrounding Alexander, the 61-year-old public safety director in DeKalb County, Georgia.

“Yes, he is confident. But I have not been overly enamored with his work here,” said the Rev. Derrick Rice, pastor of Sankofa United Church of Christ.

Sources say Alexander is the leading candidate among three finalists for police superintendent. The others are Eugene Williams, a deputy Chicago Police superintendent, and Anne Kirkpatrick, the former chief of police in Spokane, Washington.

Alexander and Williams are black; Kirkpatrick is white.

Alexander, a CNN commentator, regularly discusses the fractious relationship between cops and the public after recent police shootings.

In one essay, he criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel for waiting more than a year to release the video of the officer who fatally shot Laquan McDonald in October 2014.

Alexander was also a member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Charles Ramsey, a former Chicago Police deputy superintendent and a police chief in Philadelphia and Washington, was chairman of the task force and is a consultant to Chicago.

In May 2015, the task force recommended that police departments ask outside agencies to investigate shootings by their officers.

But in DeKalb County, Alexander opted to have his own police department investigate a fatal shooting by one of his officers in December 2014. The officer shot Kevin Davis, a 44-year-old man who had called police to report an assault on his girlfriend.

In early February 2015, Alexander announced a DeKalb County police investigation found the officer did nothing wrong. He said he would turn over the case to the DeKalb County district attorney for review.

He also said he would comply with the Davis family’s request to call in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to conduct an independent investigation, but only after the district attorney’s review was complete.

When protesters demanded Alexander immediately turn the case over to state investigators, “he made it very clear that was not going to happen,” Rice said.

But three days later, after Rice threatened to have hundreds of demonstrators gather outside county offices, Alexander announced he had called in the state.

“We changed his mind,” Rice said.

DeKalb County prosecutors are still considering charges against the officer who shot Davis.

Rice said Alexander met with families of people shot by officers and refused to apologize to them.

“I cannot say that when I had direct dealings with him that he was a person for the people,” Rice said.

“His track record leaves some things to be desired in a place that has far less population and volatility” than Chicago, he said.

Alexander, who lived on Chicago’s South Side as a child, did not return a call seeking comment.

Kathryn Gannon, a DeKalb County commissioner, said Alexander doesn’t have many critics.

“The community is right there with him, white and black,” she said. “No one is stepping up and saying he’s not doing a good job.”

“He is well-liked, for the most part,” Gannon said.

Alexander fought with limited success for the county to increase the pay for his cops, Gannon said.

He was unsuccessful in an attempt to have outside agencies investigate corruption in county government, Gannon said.

But he instituted data-driven policing that made officers more proactive in fighting crime, Gannon said.

And he was upfront with news media and county officials about problems involving the police department, Gannon said.

“Transparency was part of what made the people, certainly me, have more faith in our department and how things were handled,” she said.

Alexander has also impressed Lori Lightfoot, the president of the Chicago Police Board.

“He’s a person who’s very comfortable in his skin and he’s going to exude that confidence — not arrogance, but confidence — in a way that will win people over.”

In his 22-page questionnaire for the Police Board, Alexander said “task-force strategies” unfairly condemned as “militarized policing” have a role to play, so long as police do not “present themselves as an invading force at war” with the community.

During his tenure as deputy chief and chief of police in Rochester, New York, Alexander said he sent in a “dedicated task force of uniformed officers” to ease a spike in violence that saw a mother and child waiting at a bus stop caught in the crossfire between rival gangs.

The move was accompanied by “concerted outreach” to the community.

“We did not go in as an uninvited, occupying force — as soldiers — but as guardians of the community. . . . Our officers were prepared to use vigorous tactics. But they also spent a lot of time talking to folks on the street and on their porches, inviting them to talk about the neighborhood and what they wanted for it,” he wrote.

“In the end, both community policing and so-called militarized policing are proactive approaches to crime. Not only can they be used together. They can be used together, synergistically, by the same officers,” he wrote.

Alexander said he was introduced to community policing during the early 1980s by one of its pioneers: his commanding officer in the Miami-Dade Police Department.

At the time, Miami was still reeling from riots that followed the acquittal of four local police officers in the beating death of an African-American motorcyclist. The violent demonstrations killed 18 people, injured 350 others and triggered $100 million in property losses.

“The conundrum at the heart of 21st century policing is that the most challenged communities present the most urgent demands for public safety, yet tend most strongly to resent the methods police employ to provide for public safety. Community policing can transform dysfunctional police-community relations,” he wrote.

“Back in Miami-Dade in the 1980s, community policing occupied a small niche in a big department. For community policing to make a sustainable impact, the principles, attitudes and tactics of community policing have to permeate the entire force.”