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Chicago Police Board unveils 3 finalists for CPD superintendent

“...Now the mayor has the hard job of selecting...the one that she feels can best lead...,” Board President Ghian Foreman said.

The three finalists for Chicago Police Department superintendent are (from left): Dallas Police Chief David Brown; Chicago Deputy Chief Ernest Cato III; and Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman.
The three finalists for Chicago Police Department superintendent are (from left): Dallas Police Chief David Brown; Chicago Deputy Chief Ernest Cato III; and Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman.
File photos

Four months after the position was abruptly vacated, the Chicago Police Board on Wednesday named the three candidates still in the running to be the next permanent superintendent of the Chicago Police Department — though one finalist was a clear-cut favorite.

As the Chicago Sun-Times reported a day earlier, the three are David Brown, the former chief of the Dallas Police Department, current CPD Deputy Chief Ernest Cato, and Kristen Ziman, chief of the Aurora Police Department.

Board President Ghian Foreman said the nine-person panel used a host of criteria — overall experience, decision-making, community policing philosophies, among others — to narrow down their finalists from the 25 people who applied for the job.

“These were the three candidates that we thought best fit the bill,” Foreman said. “This was a difficult decision. We had really good people who applied and I think that there were a number of candidates who would have made a good superintendent. It was our job to whittle it down to three, which we did, and now the mayor has the hard job of selecting, of those three, the one that she feels can best lead the City of Chicago’s police department.”

It wasn’t clear when Lightfoot would make her choice. Last November, shortly before former Supt. Eddie Johnson announced plans to retire, the mayor stressed that she valued the process by which the Police Board selects finalists for the superintendent job.

“Having led the last search for a superintendent, I believe in respecting the law and the Police Board process,” Lightfoot said at the time.

Sources said Foreman has privately recommended that Lightfoot choose Brown.

As one source put it, “He checks a couple of boxes. He’s African American. He’s got a lot of integrity. He had a pretty good record in Dallas. And he left there on good terms. His appointment would be good for morale here.”

A source close to the Police Board search has described Brown’s strength as 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.

Ziman, who would be the first woman to lead the nearly 14,000-person department, was thrust into the national spotlight after a deadly mass shooting in Aurora in 2019. Earlier this year, she was the guest of U.S. Rep. Bill Foster at President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.

The Police Board was impressed enough with Cato’s community ties and polished presentation to make him the only insider among the top three. But Cato was also a sergeant just three years ago.

Sources said Foreman has told the mayor he believes Cato is not quite ready to make the jump and that he would benefit from a bit more seasoning, making him a better candidate for police superintendent next time around.

“He’ll be good, but he needs time learn. You can’t make the jump that quickly to the big chair,” said another source familiar with the search.

Not surprisingly, Chicago aldermen who must confirm the mayor’s choice would rather see the mayor choose the only insider in Cato.

“I’ve worked with Cato in the past. He’s a good leader. Cato is someone who has lived in some of these disadvantaged communities in our city, worked in ‘em and understands them,” said Ald Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

Ervin said his relationship with Cato was forged during Cato’s days as a tactical lieutenant in the West Side’s Austin District and as Austin District commander. Cato is also from West Garfield Park.

“I found Cato to be a very community-oriented police officer. My dealings with him weren’t jaded in a police-officer-is-always-right perspective. They weren’t jaded in a community-is-always-right perspective. He did a very good job of understanding the community has a part to play and the police have a part to play and, if both of us work together, it will make the community stronger,” Ervin said.