What does Lori Lightfoot value more in new top cop — community connection, or continuity?
Lightfoot’s choice likely will come down to either former Dallas Police Chief David Brown or Sean Malinowski, former chief of detectives for the Los Angeles Police Department who consulted CPD on technology reforms, sources say.
In choosing a permanent replacement for fired Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, Mayor Lori Lightfoot must decide what she values most: community relations or not missing a beat on fighting crime.
Her choice is likely to come down to former Dallas Police Chief David Brown or Sean Malinowski, former chief of detectives for the Los Angeles Police Department. Brown is black, Malinowski white.
If Lightfoot is most concerned about rebuilding public trust shattered by the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald, she’s likely to choose Brown.
A source close to the Police Board search said Brown’s strength is his “amazing personal story” and willingness to “use that story to connect” with citizens. His brother was murdered by drug dealers, his son was killed in a police shootout and his partner died in the line of duty.
Brown is a seasoned leader who ran a big-city department that also dealt with gun violence problems but wasn’t under a civil-rights consent decree like Chicago. His weakness is that he doesn’t know Chicago and could be devoured, as other outsiders have, by the city’s unique brand of politics.
If Lightfoot values continuity and consent-decree compliance over community connection, she’s more likely to choose Malinowski, who knows CPD intimately.
In Los Angeles, Malinowski served as chief of staff to now-retired LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who’s now interim CPD superintendent.
Malinowski knows what it takes to comply with a consent decree. One was put in place after the Rodney King beating and the Rampart police scandal in L.A. in the 1990s.
And he’s worked under the LAPD’s organization, which Beck has brought to Chicago.
As a consultant to CPD in the furor after the court-ordered release of the McDonald shooting video, Malinowski helped create Strategic Decision Support Centers in districts across the city.
They allow police and civilian analysts to monitor shootings and crime trends in real time. The centers have been credited with helping drive down shootings in some of the most historically violent parts of the city.
After retiring as LAPD’s chief of detectives last year, Malinowski took a full-time job with the University of Chicago Crime Lab.
Of the 25 candidates applying to become superintendent, 11 are with CPD or have spent a significant amount of time there. Twenty-one are men and four are women. Thirteen are white, 11 are African American and one is Hispanic.
All candidates were required to submit videos with their written applications.
Malinowski’s “blew people away,” a source says. He talked about conducting a blitzkrieg tour of Chicago neighborhoods to build public support.
“It had an arc to it. He told his personal story and his police story. He talked about the progress in Chicago, his role in it and his understanding of it,” says a source. After watching the Malinowski video, it was clear “everybody else would play catch up, but Sean wouldn’t miss a beat.”
Malinowski has some weaknesses. He appears to City Hall insiders to be campaigning for the job. And compared with Brown, he looks more like a police technocrat than a community champion. He also clashed with Lightfoot chief of staff Maurice Classen.
“Sean is a very straightforward person. Sean would give Classen advice and it wasn’t well-received,” says a source familiar with their relationship.
Beck acknowledges taking Malinowski’s advice while designing the LAPD-style reorganization of the Chicago Police Department, but denies he’s setting the table for Malinowski.
Still, during a recent appearance before the City Club of Chicago, Beck put in a plug for Malinowski when asked if the next superintendent should be an insider. He nodded to Malinowski’s time studying at the University of Illinois at Chicago and his family ties here.
“Sean, who’s seated right here at the table, came out to Chicago, is from Chicago, has lived in Chicago. ... To come in cold here, I think is a hugely heavy lift,” Beck said that day.
A mayoral ally, who asked not to be named, warned Lightfoot could have a “problem with the Black Caucus” if she chooses a white superintendent over an African American. Black Caucus Chairman Jason Ervin (28th) says he’ll take a wait-and-see approach.
“This is one of the most important decisions of her tenure. I’m going to give her the deference to pick someone, then we will go through the process to either confirm or not,” Ervin says.
Ervin said he would love to see another African American superintendent. But what’s more important is for the next top cop to “command respect of the officers, have respect from the community and also move forward in turning the ship as it relates to the consent decree.”
“It’s a tall order to get all of that out of one person. I hope that the community aspect doesn’t lose out in trying to balance all of those concerns,” Ervin said.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said Lightfoot can get away with choosing a white superintendent because she is African American.
“I would prefer it to be a black, but I would prefer it even more to be someone who’s good,” Burnett said Thursday. “African Americans are the ones who suffer the most from crime. All they care about is who’s gonna get the job done and keep them safe.”
Over the years, the Police Board process has been a sham. Nationwide searches were conducted while the mayor conducted his or her own back-channel search. The mayor’s pick, communicated to the board, would magically appear on the list of three finalists.
The only time in recent Chicago history that familiar script wasn’t followed was four years ago when then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel rejected the three finalists chosen by a Police Board led by Lightfoot and picked Johnson out of obscurity even though he hadn’t applied.
Lightfoot has promised this time will be different. On the November day when she chose Beck as interim superintendent, shelaughed when asked if she’d conduct such a search.
“I’m not gonna steer the search. The search has to be independent,” she said then.
“The process only has legitimacy if you follow it. ... I’m gonna make my decision based upon the options that are presented to me by the Police Board. I’m open to any possibility.”
Pressed to describe her ideal superintendent, Lightfoot said it was someone with experience running a “big and complicated” police organization who can “motivate the troops” and understands the value of “constitutional policing.”
She also described the need for a “bridge builder” who understands the need to build “strong and deep ties to the community” and the “opportunities” for change created by a federal consent decree.
The mayor was asked if the new superintendent must be African American.
“You know that I hate the racial and tribal politics of the city. It is a reality. But I’m gonna pick the best person, whoever that person is,” she said.
Lightfoot said no matter whom she chooses, there will be critics. It comes with the territory.
“I’m 57 years old. I have a pretty good sense of my values, what my North Star is. I’m thoughtful in my approach. I’ll be thoughtful in my approach here.”
Deputy Chief Ernest Cato, recently promoted by Beck, was among those summoned by the Police Board for in-person interviews. But sources said Cato has had a “rapid rise” and would likely benefit from more seasoning, though he is “very polished” in his personal presentation.
Johnson’s rapid rise and his unhappy demise — being fired for “lying” to the mayor about an embarrassing drinking-and-driving incident in mid-October — underscores the need for Cato to gain more experience and wait until the next superintendent’s search, sources said.
Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman is also on the short list. But she runs a police department no bigger than a Chicago police district. Ziman got some national attention when she was recently invited to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address for her handling of a mass shooting in Aurora last year.
Many stories about Brown in his hometown newspaper, the Dallas Morning News, have painted a glowing portrait of him. Brown was chief from 2010 to 2016.
When he retired, the newspaper ran a story under the headline: “Going out on top,” which can’t be said for Chicago’s past two police superintendents, both ousted because of scandals.
He was praised for trying to improve relations with the city’s minority community, putting cops on foot patrols, organizing sporting events for kids and requiring “de-escalation” training for officers and racial-bias training for his managers.
One of his first moves was to promote a Latino man as his No. 2 in what was seen as a bridge to that city’s large Hispanic population.
The minority community, accustomed to tragedy, related to Brown’s personal story, too. His younger brother was murdered in 1991 and his son was killed by police officers after he shot and killed a suburban cop. His son suffered from mental illness, according to news reports.
His handling of the killing of five officers in an ambush in 2016 drew praise from some and raised eyebrows with others. He used a robot to deliver an explosive device that killed the barricaded shooter. A grand jury cleared the department of wrongdoing.
Brown, 59, ran a far smaller police department —about 3,600 officers, compared to nearly 13,000 in Chicago. He wasn’t beloved by all officers: in 2015, national, state and local police associations called for his firing, claiming he promoted friends and punished critics.
Brown has called himself a “loner,” a private man in a public job. He said those police associations didn’t like him because he held cops accountable; as chief, he fired at least 65 officers.
Late in his tenure in Dallas, violent crime began to creep up after several years of large declines. Murders climbed sharply in Dallas in 2015 and 2016, along with overall crime, records show.
Since retiring, Brown has worked as a consultant for ABC News. One opinion piece for ABC was about the arrest in 2018 of two black men who’d been told to leave a Starbucks in Philadelphia.
“Is it me, or does the Starbucks thing sound like the lunch counter protest of the 1960s minus the dogs and water hoses?” wrote Brown, who has 65,000 followers on Twitter because of his national profile.
Malinowski, 55, is wonkier than Brown. If Brown developed a national reputation by focusing on community relations, Malinowski is known across the country for using technology to fight crime.
Malinowski, who holds a Ph.D. in public administration from the University of Illinois, is a Fulbright Scholar. The Chicago Sun-Times profiled him in 2018 when he held a $250-an-hour consulting job with the Chicago police to create the new high-tech Strategic Decision Support Centers.
In the Sun-Times profile, Malinowski stressed technology was not enough to tamp down crime. He said district commanders were being encouraged to boost community outreach programs to get citizens involved after decades of mistrust.
Malinowski had also advised Baltimore’s mayor on hiring a police commissioner there. In 2018, he and Eddie Johnson, who Malinowski knew from his work in Chicago, were among the officials who helped interview candidates for that Baltimore job, according to the Baltimore Sun.