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Memorial Day ‘fail’ by city’s new top cop tied to preoccupation with curbing overtime, alderman says

Ald. Chris Taliaferro, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, says CPD Supt. David Brown had “hundreds” fewer officers on the street over the holiday weekend and never shared his strategy with local aldermen.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown listens to a question about the Memorial Day weekend violence at a news conference May 26, 2020.
CPD Supt. David Brown at a news conference Tuesday, discussion Chicago violence over the Memorial Day weekend. 10 people were shot and killed from 5 p.m. Friday through 5 a.m. Tuesday, the deadliest Memorial Day weekend since 2015.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo

David Brown failed his first major test as Chicago’s police superintendent because he was more concerned with cutting overtime than fighting violence and failed to share his Memorial Day weekend plans with local leaders, an influential alderman said Thursday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has condemned the “out of control” violence that turned Memorial Day weekend into a “bloodbath” and held Brown personally responsible. The chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety went even further.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago Police officer, said the former Dallas police chief turned his first holiday weekend in Chicago into “a fail,” as Lightfoot put it, by putting hundreds fewer moonlighting officers on the street than the 1,200 additional officers who worked last Memorial Day weekend.

Under pressure from Lightfoot to reduce police overtime that topped $130 million for the first 11 months of last year alone, Brown ordered all overtime to be approved by deputy chiefs and above. It was one of his first official moves as superintendent.

According to Taliaferro, the edict was on full display over Memorial Day weekend. There were “hundreds” fewer officers on the street when there should have been at least as many as last year, maybe more, to “saturate” South and West Side police districts plagued by gang and gun violence, the alderman said.

The Chicago Police Department should also have used “outside units” from the State Police and Cook County Sheriff’s office, Taliaferro said.

“The mistake was cutting back on officers. There were a lot fewer. … It did not rise to the level of what we had the last several years. And that’s why we saw an increase in violence,” Taliaferro said.

“You need to have those officers on the street during holiday periods — especially when we’ve been sheltered in place for two-and-a-half months. We can worry about cutting back on overtime Tuesday through Thursday.”

Taliaferro said Brown’s second major mistake was in failing to share his Memorial Day weekend strategy with aldermen in those South and West Side police districts.

“As a resident of the city, I didn’t know the plan. As an alderman, I didn’t know the plan. As chairman of Public Safety, I didn’t know the plan. That plan should be shared with at least some of us,” Taliaferro said.

“I did get a call from the department to ask about concerns. The concern is always the same: to have as few shootings as possible. But, you didn’t tell me what the plan is. … It’s hard to determine where we went wrong because that plan was not shared with us. … Why not tell the residents of the city what your plan is for Memorial Day weekend instead of facing an embarrassment on Tuesday — because it was an embarrassment.”

On Tuesday morning, Brown acknowledged a cutback in officers working overtime shifts to patrol the streets over the Memorial Day weekend. Normally, that number is well over 1,000. Instead, “We had several hundred that were dedicated [to weekend street patrol] and coordinated a little bit better,” he said.

Hours later, Lightfoot contradicted her hand-picked superintendent, saying, “In fact, there were more officers on the street this weekend” than in prior years. The mayor blamed disgruntled Narcotics Unit officers upset about cuts in police overtime for spreading a false rumor that there were 1,000 fewer police officers on the street.

Thursday, Lightfoot said her remarks should not be seen as showing any lack of confidence in her new top cop.

“Superintendent Brown has, and will continue to have, my unflagging support. Full stop. I am 100 percent committed to his success....I have every confidence that he will be one of the greatest leaders that the Chicago Police Department has ever been graced to have,” she said.

Lightfoot’s brutal characterization of Brown’s Memorial Day weekend strategy marked the first time she has called out her handpicked superintendent since the retired Dallas police chief was hired.

Taliaferro was not at all surprised.

“When you fail, she’s the type of mayor that won’t hold back punches. She will let you know. … She appointed him. She expects the best of him. In the mayor’s opinion, it was an epic fail. So she voiced that. She did the right thing,” the alderman said.

“Perhaps, it put him on the defense. But it also is gonna trigger a do-better attitude. … Fourth of July is a time for redemption. He has to redeem himself from this Memorial Day weekend catastrophe. … I would certainly not walk into the Fourth of July with the premise of reducing overtime. Let’s put officers on the street to keep our residents safe. And we’ll worry about overtime on the Fifth of July.”

The city’s strategy to tamp down shootings during Memorial Day weekend — which, along with the Fourth of July and Labor Day, is one of the most historically violent weekends every year — was multi-pronged.

Ahead of the holiday weekend, the city opened the “Summer Operations Center,” a facility staffed by employees of the Chicago Park District, CTA, CPS, and the Department of Streets and Sanitation, among others.

The SOC, which will be in operation every weekend through September, aims to streamline operations and resource deployment among the various departments and the city’s emergency services.

The new facility operates out of the city’s 911 center in the West Loop and is styled similarly to the CPD’s Strategic Decision Support Centers — tech-based nerve centers in police stations across the city that allow police supervisors to deploy and re-deploy law enforcement resources in real time using a network of cameras and gunshot detectors.

Taliferro isn’t the first alderman to take issue with Brown’s planning.

In his first day on the job, Brown found himself apologizing to several North and Northwest side aldermen because he didn’t tell them about a policing strategy that temporarily shipped dozens of officers from their wards out to the West Side to help combat shootings.

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), whose Northwest Side ward is home to scores of cops, firefighters and other city workers, was among the aldermen who got an apology from Brown.

“My f------ ward is f------ furious that this is happening and it’s absolutely unacceptable,” Napolitano, himself a former Chicago police officer, previously said of the surge strategy. “I get that there’s crime in other places in the city — I get it — but you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul to protect the city. Our residents deserve just as much security by the police force as anyone else does in this city.

The new superintendent took that round of criticism in stride, though.

“I took no disrespect at all with their sentiment,” Brown told the Sun-Times earlier this month, adding that he told the aldermen: “The tougher you are on me, I think the better outcomes you’ll get from this department.”