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Interim CPD Supt. Beck halts controversial merit promotions system

In a Tuesday email to officers, Beck said, “I continue to hear that members have been dissatisfied and discouraged by the merit promotion system.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot looks on as former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck speaks during a press conference at City Hall after Lightfoot officially announced he would be Chicago’s interim police superintendent, Friday morning, Nov. 8, 2019.
Charlie Beck, the interim superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, said Tuesday that he will not approve any merit promotions during his time leading the department. He will recommend his successor do the same.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck on Tuesday told officers that he will not make any merit promotions during his time leading the department.

In a Tuesday email to officers, Beck said, “I continue to hear that members have been dissatisfied and discouraged by the merit promotion system.”

Beck added that he will recommend his successor also not use the much-maligned system and will encourage the department to hold promotional exams every two years in the future.

The announcement comes just days before the department is scheduled to hold an exam for officers who want to be promoted to sergeant. Beck said the decision was made in concert with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Kevin Graham, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents rank-and-file officers.

In its scathing indictment of the CPD, the U.S. Justice Department said the “lack of transparency” surrounding the process of nominating and qualifying for merit promotions was “one of the major complaints from officers” interviewed.

“Many of the officers we spoke with, minority and non-minority alike, told us they feel merit promotions are not truly based on merit, but rather the clout you hold in the department or who you know,” said the DOJ report that was spurred by the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

Twenty percent of detectives and 30 percent of other ranks are promoted under the merit system. Supervisors nominate candidates, and a five-member board of department higher-ups interviews them and votes on them. The names of the candidates approved by the board are forwarded to the superintendent for final approval.

The department has used merit promotions since the 1990s, with the goal, ostensibly, being to increase the number of minorities in departmental leadership positions.

A 2016 Sun-Times investigation found that white men received 40 percent of merit promotions, more than any other racial or gender group.

Contributing: Fran Spielman