Chicago’s next police superintendent should have 21st century view of policing

There has been a lot of talk about noncompliance with the court-mandated consent decree, but the truth is that while consent decree compliance is a requirement, it should be the floor and not the ceiling. True reform has to be the goal of the next superintendent.

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Recruits take an oath of office during a Chicago Police Department graduation ceremony at the Aon Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier, Tuesday morning, March 7, 2023. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Recruits take an oath of office during a Chicago Police Department graduation ceremony at the Aon Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier, Tuesday morning, March 7, 2023.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

As the era of Supt. David Brown comes to a close in Chicago, the next mayor and the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability have an incredible opportunity to hire a transformational leader.

The city and the department are at a crossroads, and this will be one of the most important decisions the 57th mayor will face. It is encouraging to hear both Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas hint at an openness to hiring someone familiar with the Chicago Police Department, as opposed to the outsider track Lightfoot took with Brown.

As the state representative of the most diverse district in Illinois, I cover portions of five police districts and have personally gotten to know beat officers, CAPS sergeants, lieutenants, detectives, district commanders and deputy district chiefs throughout the city. I know we have Grade A talent in the pipeline – people who know Chicago, our neighborhoods and the department, and who know and love Chicagoans.

There are also people who left CPD recently who should get strong consideration. However, we should use caution before reaching too far back. Both the city and the current training have changed, and so too must the department, which can’t be done by someone too married to the past.

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Chicago deserves a superintendent with a 21st century view of policing and of the world —someone who believes at their core that public safety is broader than policing and understands community-led violence prevention, mental health responses and housing services are all part of the safety solution.

There has been a lot of talk about noncompliance with the court-mandated consent decree, but the truth is that while consent decree compliance is a requirement, it should be the floor and not the ceiling.

True reform has to be the goal of the next superintendent. We can’t be content with checking the boxes and returning to business as usual. Belief in true police reform will lead to consent decree compliance, but consent decree compliance alone will not lead to true reform.

The new superintendent has to be able to detach themselves from the failed strategies of the past. Part of the problem with Brown’s department was he was committed to using old keys to open new locks.

The CPD has to detach itself from a mid-1990s gang strategy that doesn’t work because street organizations have changed how they exist and operate. Spending exorbitant resources on strategies like narcotics buys/busts that nowadays normally yield only low-level dealers – who are often also low-level users – on charges that rarely stick in court is a waste. The CPD’s time is better served doing work that will move the needle on reform, building community trust and safety.

A superintendent with a reform mindset will also be the department’s greatest change maker when it comes to addressing mental health issues among officers. The CPD has more officer suicides than any other department in the country.

At the same time, we ask our officers to work long hours and put them in situations to fail, whether that be encouraging over-policing or having them respond to crisis calls that require a medical professional or social worker, not someone with a badge and a gun.

The next superintendent should not just be open to change but a thought leader for how to make change happen. Policing throughout the state also requires a strong leader at the CPD who understands the responsibilities of running the department but also the obligation of setting the tone for the other 994 law enforcement entities throughout Illinois.

They must be skilled at interfacing with the Illinois General Assembly, the Chicago City Council, the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, and Police District Councils in a way that fosters collaboration.

The next mayor’s pick has to signal to the people of Chicago and the women and men of the department that by building trust, the CPD can solve crimes, support communities and help in the all-hands-on-deck pursuit of public safety for everyone in Chicago - and create a Chicago that where you live does not determine if you live, ending the relentless drumbeat of violence in our city.

Having worked on successfully reducing the murder rate, consent decree compliance and hiring a police chief while working for the mayor of New Orleans, I know there are too few reform-minded top cops in the country today, which doesn’t bode well for the future of policing in America.

Nevertheless, once again Chicago has an opportunity — we don’t need an example of how to get it right, we should be the example of how to get it right.

Kam Buckner is the state representative for the 26th District.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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