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Virtual confirmation hearing Monday for CPD superintendent nominee David Brown

Confirmation hearings for a new police superintendent are typically command performances for Chicago aldermen, who like to ask tough and sometimes parochial questions about crime in their individual wards.

Former Dallas Police Chief David Brown was introduced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on April 2, 2020 as her choice to take over the top job at the Chicago Police Department.
Former Dallas Police Chief David Brown is Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s choice to take over the top job at the Chicago Police Department.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The City Council’s Committee on Public Safety will hold a virtual meeting at 11 a.m. Monday to consider Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s appointment of retired Dallas police chief David Brown as Chicago’s $260,044-a-year police superintendent.

Lightfoot plans to introduce the Brown appointment at Wednesday’s virtual City Council meeting being held for the sole purpose of adopting emergency rules that allow aldermen to conduct substantive city business without meeting in person.

That will set the stage for Monday’s confirmation hearing which, like the council meeting, will use Zoom video-conferencing.

Normally, confirmation hearings for a new police superintendent are command performances for Chicago aldermen. They often drag on for hours with alderman asking tough and sometimes parochial questions about crime in their individual wards.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chairman of the public safety committee, expects Monday’s hearing to be no different, even though Brown’s confirmation is not in doubt.

The chairman said he wants to know what Brown intends to do about merit promotions. Does he plan to “fix what’s broken” about merit promotions or follow in the footsteps of Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck and do away with merit promotions altogether?

“If he is going to carry that torch and get rid of merit promotion? What is he going to do with regard to ensuring that we have diverse supervisory ranks on the police department? I really want to now how he’s going to handle diversity,” Taliaferro said.

“I’m not supportive of getting rid of merit promotion. I’m very supportive of transparency and getting rid of the problems that were associated with merit promotions, rather than getting rid of the entire merit promotions. Merit promotions were put there for a reason — and that was diversity. Somehow, some time, some way, it was abused. It would be good to see Superintendent Brown re-implement it, but with some safeguards.”

Days before City Hall was closed to the public, Lightfoot’s plan to fill the missing link in police reform — civilian police review — hit a snag.

The 11th-hour disagreement between the Lightfoot administration and the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability was over who would have the final say on establishing police policy whenever there is a disagreement between the civilian oversight board and the Chicago Police Department.

The mayor’s version makes her the final arbiter in policy-making disputes. The Grassroots Alliance wants the seven-member board to have the final say on policy, though all policy would need to have the support of both the board and CPD. Taliaferro sided with the community groups.

On the day he was introduced to Chicago, Brown was asked where he stands. He punted the question to the City Council.

“There’s no punting in this one. That opportunity to answer that question is gonna be put on his doorstep. And that’s a question you can’t punt,” Taliaferro said.

Brown, 59, retired as Dallas police chief in 2016 after a horrific year that saw five of his police officers gunned down in a downtown ambush.

He made headlines — and generated controversy — when he gave the go-ahead to use an explosive-bearing, remote-controlled robot to kill the gunman.

Which raises the question that Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, plans to ask: Why did Brown essentially choose to execute the gunman when he could have chosen a less lethal option?

“I just want to hear his explanation of why he took that tack versus kind of waiting him out or doing something different,” Ervin said Tuesday.

“I can’t say that it was [necessary] and I can’t say that it wasn’t because I wasn’t there. That’s why I want to ask him why that was the best course of action. It’s not implausible that the situation could happen again. I just want to understand what the thought process was behind him giving the order to terminate this individual’s life.”

No matter how Brown answers that question and questions about how he plans to end Chicago’s relentless cycle of gang violence, Ervin said he expects Brown’s nomination to sail through the committee and the full Council.

Noting that CPD superintendent and Chicago Public Schools CEO are “the two most high-profile things a mayor is judged on, Ervin said: “We should give deference to any mayor in their choices for those two top positions.”