Retired Dallas Police Chief David Brown advised Chicagoans Wednesday to “Buckle your seat belts. We’re headed to the moon” after his appointment as Chicago’s 63rd police superintendent was unanimously approved by the City Council.
“I’m not here for average. The last four days as acting superintendent, I’ve talked to the command staff about moonshot goals. Reminding them about how this country raced against the Russians to be the first to land on the moon,” said Brown, 59.
“Anyone can do average. Chicagoans deserve a moonshot. The lowest murders on record. The lowest number of shootings on record. And the highest level of trust in its officers from its residents. ... Thank you so much for this great opportunity. I’m so excited. Buckle your seat belts. We’re headed to the moon.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s appointment of Brown to replace fired Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson was one of the only things accomplished at Wednesday’s abbreviated virtual meeting.
Ninety minutes later, the mayor swore in her new superintendent.
“This represents a tremendous moment in our city — particularly for those communities that have been plagued with generations of gun violence and distrust of our police,” she said.
“We are not only getting a public servant of the highest order. . . . We are also getting a man whose values and own lived experience make him ideally suited for the long-term challenges we are working to solve.”
Brown has talked a lot about his ability to “walk and chew gum at the same time” in the three weeks since Lightfoot introduced him to Chicago. He’ll need those multitasking skills and more to succeed in the $260,044-a-year job.
He inherits a Chicago Police Department on the front lines of the city’s war against the coronavirus that has already lost three of its members and has seen more than 350 officers test positive for the virus.
Even with the stay-at-home order, homicides are up by roughly 14% over last year and shootings are up by 25%. Meanwhile, summer is fast approaching, when violence traditionally spikes.
Brown needs to finalize a plan to prevent that. He also needs to boost morale among officers who have waited nearly three years for a new contract, rebuild trust between citizens and police shattered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald and speed compliance with a consent decree outlining the terms of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department.
Former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy believes that Brown, his friend, is up to the task.
McCarthy called Brown a “tell-it-like-it-is person” who is “not afraid to say things people are afraid to say in public,” in part because “he’s been through the wringer” both personally and professionally.
McCarthy’s advice to Brown is to, “Be yourself. And be apolitical.” Steer clear of Chicago politics.
“That’s what’s wrong with Chicago. David’s gonna come up against that. I love to tell the story that, when I first got here, aldermen would call me up and tell me who they thought their district commander should be. And I told them, when you’re accountable for their performance, then you can pick who that person is,” McCarthy said.
“What we do here fails . . . Lori knows it. As a matter of fact, when I talk to Lori, which I do on a regular basis, you know what she says to me? She says, `Garry, it keeps coming back to me over and over again. We’ve got to go legit.’ That’s what she did with Eddie Johnson. You can’t hold police officers accountable for lying and not hold the police chief accountable for the same thing.”
McCarthy considers himself a victim of Chicago politics.
He was fired by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the furor that followed the court-ordered release of the McDonald video. At the time, Emanuel accused his only police chief of becoming a “distraction.”
Emanuel then rejected the three finalists recommended by the Lightfoot-led Police Board, persuaded the City Council to change the law and dispatch with the charade of a second nationwide search so he could appoint Johnson, who hadn’t even applied for the superintendent’s job.
“That is the ultimate example of what’s wrong with Chicago politics,” McCarthy said.
To succeed where other outsiders have failed, McCarthy said Brown needs to “put the right people in the right seats on the bus and give them the authority and accountability to do what they need to do. Every police department in the country that has followed this model has succeeded in reducing complaints against officers and crime at the same time.”