Alderman angry only one Hispanic is among nine listed for promotion to CPD lieutenant

“Here’s an opportunity to meritoriously promote some more Hispanics to make it more reflective of the city. And then, we get the short end of the stick. I’m tired of it,” said Ald. Gilbert Villegas, chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus.

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Chicago police officers attend a graduation and promotion ceremony at Navy Pier in November 2018.

A Chicago Police Department graduation and promotion ceremony at Navy Pier.

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The chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus on Wednesday demanded to know why there’s only one Latino among Chicago Police Supt. David Brown’s nine merit promotions to the rank of lieutenant.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s former Council floor leader, already was livid about the paucity of Hispanics in the mayor’s cabinet and at other local government agencies under her control.

The fact that the first round of merit promotions by her hand-picked police superintendent — after Brown reversed his predecessor’s decision to abolish merit promotions — infuriated Villegas even more.

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“It’s a slap in the face. We’re talking about building a bench for leadership within CPD. Here’s an opportunity to meritoriously promote some more Hispanics to make it more reflective of the city. And then, we get the short end of the stick. I’m tired of it,” Villegas told the Sun-Times.

“I’m frustrated. Diversity and equity is not working for us. We need parity. We’re a third of the city. Census numbers are gonna show that we’re the largest population [group]. It’s due time that we get our fair share. Period.”

Villegas acknowledged African-Americans are under-represented among police brass, but “so are the Latinos. If a merit promotion is to diversify the ranks, why is it only one community being diversified? Why isn’t our community getting an opportunity to be in leadership roles? Why isn’t our bench getting groomed for leadership? You have some Latino chiefs [who] have retired or are retiring. What’s the plan to show some hope to the new Latino cops that, if you do a good job, you can get promoted?”

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) speaks at a City Council meeting.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) wants to know how CPD Supt. David Brown produced a list of nine officers being promoted to lieutenant has only one Hispanic person on it.

Ashlee Rezin/ Sun-Times file

Chicago Police Department spokesman Tom Ahern did not explain why Brown’s lieutenant list has only one Hispanic on it.

In an emailed statement, Ahern explained only Brown’s decision to bring back merit promotions.

“Diversity is more important now in law enforcement than it has ever been,” he said.

“If we are going to build and grow the community’s trust, this Department needs to be reflective of the communities we serve and protect,” Ahern wrote.

“That means ensuring people of color are represented within every level of policing — from the rank-and-file to the command staff.”

During his confirmation hearing in April 2020, Brown told Public Safety Committee Chairman Chris Taliaferro he was “speaking to the choir” in claiming some police officers “are not great at multiple-choice exams.”

Brown promised then to “aggressively pursue a replacement for merit” promotions without re-opening the controversy about political influence.

In its scathing indictment of CPD triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, the U.S. Justice Department shined the light on a merit-promotion process roundly condemned by the officers it interviewed as a “reward for cronyism” and clout.

The DOJ report that laid the groundwork for the consent decree now in place said the “lack of transparency” surrounding the process of nominating and qualifying for merit promotions was “one of the major complaints from officers” interviewed.

Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck took the barrage of complaints to heart while holding down the fort after the drinking-and-driving incident that prompted Lightfoot to fire former Police Supt. Eddie Johnson.

In December 2019, Beck told officers he would not make any merit promotions and would recommend his successor not use the system. Instead, Beck encouraged the department to hold promotional exams every two years.

Taliaferro has acknowledged merit promotions have been fraught with politics over the years and a bitter source of contention among the rank-and-file because the standards are so murky.

But he told Brown the department needs to elevate and cultivate a new generation of police leaders who may not be the greatest test-takers.

With the exception of the brief hiatus under Beck, CPD has used merit promotions to diversify its supervisory ranks since the early 1990s; 20% of detectives and 30 percent of other ranks are promoted under the merit system.

Supervisors nominate candidates and a five-member board of deputy chiefs interviews them and votes. The names of the candidates approved by the board are forwarded to the superintendent for final approval.

All other promotions are made through a testing process.


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