Chicago’s top cop search panel begins in-person interviews

This time around, the civilian review panel screening candidates will have the input of rank-and-file officers.

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The Community Commission on Public Safety and Police Accountability holds its first meeting in September 2022 at Malcolm X College.

The Community Commission on Public Safety and Police Accountability held its first meeting in September at Malcolm X College.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Time

A civilian review panel is starting in-person interviews with leading candidates for Chicago police superintendent, armed with a “whole tabletful” of input from rank-and-file officers that former Supt. David Brown would not allow.

“They were very clear that David Brown would not allow access to the membership. They continually asked to be able to communicate with members, interview them and talk to them, and they were repeatedly rebuffed and ignored,” Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara told members in a YouTube video this week.

Noting that the FOP took a no-confidence vote in Brown more than two years ago, Catanzara said: “They probably didn’t want police officers telling this commission how terrible of a boss that David Brown really was.”

Brown did not return a phone call seeking comment. He resigned the day after Lori Lightfoot was eliminated from the mayor’s race and returned to Dallas, where he previously served as police chief.

Anthony Driver, president of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, refused to speculate on why Brown “did not want us talking to rank-and-file officers” or riding along with them. Driver would only say it was an impediment.

“We’re an oversight agency. … It’s very difficult to be an oversight body if you’re not allowed to develop relationships with the people” you’re overseeing, he said.

“It’s also unfair. How do you exclude an entire group of people from having their voice heard? ... It put me and the commission in a position where, early on, we were immediately seen as the enemy without ever actually having an opportunity to have a conversation with folks.”

Anthony Driver Jr., president of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, speaks at a City Hall news conference on March 15, 2023.

Anthony Driver Jr., president of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, speaks at a City Hall news conference in March.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Of the 53 people vying to become Brown’s permanent replacement, 32 have past or current ties to the Chicago Police Department.

With in-person interviews with leading candidates beginning, Driver said the commission is “on track to make or beat” a July 14 deadline to present the names of three finalists to Mayor Brandon Johnson — and finish that search up to 50% under budget.

Driver embarks on those interviews armed with that long-sought feedback from rank-and-file officers.

He spent 90 minutes listening to officers’ concerns during the FOP’s general membership meeting last week, stuck around for a “Taste of the FOP” event that followed, then did even more listening on the sidewalk in front of union headquarters.

What Driver learned was not surprising at a time when a mass exodus of officers has left the Chicago Police Department with 1,700 fewer officers than before Lightfoot took office in 2019.

Officers “spoke a lot” about excessive overtime and the canceled days off that deprive them of the rest, relaxation and family time they need to decompress from the high-stress job.

“They spoke a lot about the instability and being unable to plan. How it impacts their family life. The toll that it takes on them. How they would like a superintendent who listens to them, who understands what it’s like to walk in their shoes, who understands the stresses of the job, who knows the city. They would like an advocate,” Driver said.

Fred Waller speaks to reporters in May after he was introduced as Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s choice to lead the Chicago Police Department on an interim basis.

Fred Waller was picked by Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s to lead the Chicago Police Department as interim superintendent. A civilian commission is now searching for someone to fill the job permanently — and though 53 people applied, Waller is not among them.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“They want somebody who can communicate effectively on their behalf and also communicate to them effectively. Somebody [who] has a strategic plan or is good at strategic planning. And somebody who’s present. They mentioned superintendents of the past who would actually roll up on job sites and who would get in the car and ride around with the officers,” Driver said.

“They’re looking for a champion. They did not feel like the last superintendent had their backs or even understood what it was like to be a Chicago police officer,” he said.

Does that mean the next superintendent needs to be an insider, which also happens to be Johnson’s stated preference?

“No, it doesn’t,” Driver said. “I’m in the middle of an interview process. I’m not gonna speak about the insider/outsider thing.”

Vanquished mayoral challenger Paul Vallas was endorsed by the FOP. Catanzara warned during the campaign that Johnson’s election would pave the way for “an exodus like we’ve never seen before,” with up to 1,000 officers leaving.

Driver said morale is “very low.” But it’s not all doom and gloom.

“If you talk to some of them long enough, you end up walking away knowing that there are a lot of people who, even though the morale is seemingly in the tank, are still very, very proud to do the job,” Driver said.

“They desperately want things to change. That’s something they have in common with the general public. They’re looking to right the ship. That gave me some hope,” said Driver.

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