Lightfoot backs CPD Supt. Brown after scathing IG report

The mayor said the Chicago Police Department learned a lot in its review of how it handled the civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot listens as Chicago Police Supt. David Brown speaks during a news conference in December.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot listens as Chicago Police Supt. David Brown speaks during a news conference in December.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday she retains “a thousand percent confidence” in Chicago Police Supt. David Brown even though he presided over a department the inspector general says was “outflanked and underprepared” for last summer’s riots.

“In my time thinking about policing in the city, which goes back 20 years, I can’t think of another leader, who said, ‘Let’s look at what happened. What went right. What the challenges were.’ And then, we’re gonna put it out for the public to review it,” Lightfoot told reporters after an unrelated event.

“That’s David Brown’s leadership. It says a lot about the integrity and legitimacy that he brings to the job.”

A 124-page report released Thursday by the city’s inspector general, Joe Ferguson, said Brown and his staff were caught off guard by growing civil disturbances downtown and in the city’s neighborhoods.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), the mayor’s most outspoken City Council critic, is demanding that Lightfoot fire Brown for what the IG’s scathing report described as mistakes at the highest levels of CPD that “failed the public” as well as rank-and-file police officers who were “left to high-stakes improvisation without adequate supervision or guidance.”

Lightfoot stood firmly behind her handpicked superintendent and branded as “completely untrue” the IG’s contention that she rejected Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s early offer to call out the National Guard to assist overwhelmed and exhausted Chicago police officers.

“There was never a time that it was offered and we rejected it. That’s simply not true. I don’t even know where that came from,” she said.

“The first conversation that I ever had with anybody from the state about the National Guard was when I called the governor myself that Saturday night.”

She also explained why she waited until very late on Saturday, May 30 — after widespread looting in the downtown area — to request the Guard after she and Brown determined they needed additional resources.

“I’m a kid who grew up in Ohio down the road from Kent State. My earliest memories are very seared by the then-Ohio governor calling in the National Guard to Kent State, and the result was four students dead. Calling in the National Guard is a very serious matter — one that I did not take lightly,” she said.

The inspector general’s report concluded the mayor’s decision to raise the Chicago River bridges and stop CTA trains from entering downtown to keep out looters may have backfired by trapping protesters there.

But Lightfoot said Friday she would do it again.

“In that circumstance, where we were trying to make sure that police could adequately respond to this massive crowd and the violence that was happening, raising the bridges was absolutely the right decision,” the mayor said.

“We won’t say categorically we’ll do it every time because it doesn’t make sense to do it every time. But if there’s a need and that need is justified, I’m not gonna hesitate to use any tool that is necessary to keep our residents and our businesses safe.”

Instead of focusing on the failures described in the IG’s report, Lightfoot highlighted what CPD has learned from how ill-prepared it was and how poorly it handled the civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd.

“There [were] a lot of table-top and live exercises that were done to better coordinate communications and the timeliness of response. … That manifested itself in a very peaceful fall, particularly around the federal election, looking at Black Friday after Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve and other potential threats that came to our city,” Lightfoot said.

“Yes, there were some challenges. No question. The Police Department has owned that responsibility in its own after-action report, which was put out … before the inspector general.”

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