39 candidates, most of them black, apply to be next police supt.

SHARE 39 candidates, most of them black, apply to be next police supt.
SHARE 39 candidates, most of them black, apply to be next police supt.

Thirty-nine candidates, many with big-city policing experience, will vie for the right to replace fired Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

The furor over the Laquan McDonald shooting video that triggered a federal civil-rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department appears to have slightly dampened the interest in the $260,004-a-year job.

Forty-four people applied in 2011.

“It would appear we have a number of African American candidates,” said Lori Lightfoot, head of the Chicago Police Board, which is leading the selection process.

“Many have big-city experience or experience with large organizations in and out of Chicago,” she said. “Roughly a third are CPD or have CPD experience, and the rest come from elsewhere.”

Former St. Louis police chief Dan Isom chose not to apply, even though he was urged to do so. Nor did newly retired Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, a former Chicago deputy police superintendent.

Newly retired First Deputy Police Supt. Al Wysinger, did not submit an application, either, even though he was the favorite among African-American aldermen. As expected, Interim Supt. John Escalante did apply.

Lightfoot said Friday she is pleased with the overall number of applicants and “thrilled” with the caliber of entrants.

She refused to name names after promising confidentiality to candidates who are currently running other big-city departments.

Currently, there are 13 African-Americans running police departments in the nation’s 50 largest cities. They include Charles McClelland in Houston, newly-appointed Philadelphia Police Chief Richard Ross, David Brown in Dallas, George N. Turner in Atlanta, Denver’s Ronald White, Calvin D. Williams in Cleveland, and Michael Harrison in New Orleans.

One black woman also serves as big-city police chief — Cassandra Deck-Brown in Raleigh, N.C.

“Naysayers out there didn’t believe anybody would want to take this job — that it was unattractive. But the truth is, we have a broad array of people with lots of experience managing large organizations law enforcement and otherwise who see what we see: This is one of the most important local law-enforcement positions in the country,” Lightfoot said Friday.

“Yes, there are challenges. But people also recognize there are tremendous opportunities . . . You have an engaged and caring public. And the department has a significant number of resources — people, equipment and technology — that are best in class.”

Although the combination of federal scrutiny, a micro-managing mayor, low police morale and a surge in shootings and homicides at the start of the year appears to have shrunk the field, Lightfoot said it’s the quality that counts.

“This is a job only a small number of people could actually do well. Historically, the number has gone up and down. We’ve had people apply before who do not even meet the bare minimum requirements. Five years of experience in law enforcement. That’s not going to cut it. We need someone with the bandwidth to do the job,” she said.

The selection of a new superintendent puts the embattled Emanuel into a political box.

If he chooses an African-American, as he must to build bridges burned by the McDonald video, Hispanic voters who back Escalante will be angry.

If he chooses Escalante, another Hispanic or another white superintendent, blacks will be furious. If he selects another outsider on the heels of Jody Weis and McCarthy, the Fraternal Order of Police will have its nose out of joint.

Lightfoot disagrees. She calls it an opportunity the mayor clearly recognizes.

“The mayor has made a lot of statements over the arc of the last month that shows he’s listening and understands the importance of rebuilding the relationship and trust between the police department and communities they serve. It’s one of the most important relationships in our city. I know he understands that and that he gets it. And clearly, the choice of the superintendent is critical to rebuilding that trust,” she said.

Although Emanuel has openly acknowledged that there is a “code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department, Lightfoot said the new superintendent need not necessarily to be an outsider. Nor does she believe McCarthy’s replacement needs to be black so long as that person has a track record of “successfully engaging communities of color.”

After reading the candidates’ answers to eight essay questions that go to the heart of the crisis confronting Chicago, the Police Board plans to summon “five or 10” semi-finalists for in-person interviews before presenting the names of three finalists to Emanuel by the end of February.

The interviews will almost certainly include strategies to combat the outbreak of violence seldom seen during cold weather months and the apparent retreat from pro-active policing for fear of being captured on the next video.

“Videos are everywhere. Many of the young men and women putting their lives on the line every day for us are millennials who’ve grown up in age of video. What the police department needs to do is provide the appropriate amount of training so no officer should fear a video of his or her actions and interactions with the public. If you have that fear, you’re in the wrong job,” Lightfoot said.

After defending McCarthy for months, Emanuel abruptly fired his only police superintendent on Dec. 1, saying the larger-than-life McCarthy had become a “distraction” in the unrelenting furor over the city’s decision to withhold dashcam video of the police shooting of McDonald for 13 months and wait until one week after the April 7 mayoral runoff to authorize a $5 million settlement with the McDonald family before a lawsuit had even been filed.

McCarthy was sent packing with just one month of salary. The $21,670 in exit pay given to McCarthy paled by comparison to the $291,662 golden parachute offered to former Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

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