As his time helming CPD ends, Charlie Beck is confident his changes will ‘survive time’

“I’m confident that they will, or I wouldn’t have made them. And I hope that they bring Chicago the police department that it deserves,” Beck said.

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Interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck in his office, Wednesday, April 8, 2020.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

He took over in a time of scandal, and now he’s handing the reins to his successor during a pandemic.

But in the four months since Charlie Beck took over as interim superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department has made a splash — one he’s confident will stand the test of time.

He did away with the CPD’s much-maligned merit promotions system and moved to drastically restructure the operations of the second largest police department in the country, all while knowing that he was working under an expiration date.

Asked how he would like to be remembered in Chicago, Beck said he hopes he’ll be thought of as “somebody that has a great love for this city and wanted to help it through a particularly tough time in its existence and did his absolute best while he was here.

“I hope that the changes that I made survive time. I’m confident that they will, or I wouldn’t have made them. And I hope that they bring Chicago the police department that it deserves.”

Beck, who spent 40 years with the LAPD, including nine years as chief, took over the CPD last December after Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired former Supt. Eddie Johnson a month before he was set to retire. Lightfoot said she ousted Johnson after he repeatedly lied about an embarrassing drinking-and-driving incident near his Bridgeport home in mid-October.

In the months since, Lightfoot has come to know Beck as “a unique and gifted leader who by his mere presence makes us feel safer,” the mayor said last week when she announced that David Brown, the retired former chief of the Dallas Police Department, was her choice for the permanent superintendent job.

Beck’s imminent departure comes as gun violence in Chicago has spiked, with seven murders recorded on Tuesday alone, all while the state is under a stay-at-home order due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The recent uptick in shootings, Beck said, was “very frustrating.”

“I’m an optimistic person. I believe in the basic goodness of humanity,” he said. “And to see people turn those ideals upside down and, for their own petty reasons, be so extremely violent is really disappointing. I think that is a cross that Chicago has borne for a long time, and I hope that some of the things that I have set in place here will change that.”

The violent flare up comes as about 8% of the nearly 14,000-person department calls in sick to work every day —twice the normal rate. As of Wednesday, 180 CPD officers have tested positive for the virus. Last week, veteran narcotics officer Marco DiFranco became the first CPD officer to die of COVID-19.

The soon-to-be-former superintendent noted that while CPD officers — who are “cut from a good cloth” and “have a strong desire to do the right thing” — will put themselves in danger without a second thought, the same can’t be said for the safety of their families.

“While we’re willing to put ourselves at risk, we’re absolutely reluctant to put our families at risk,” Beck said. “I want them to stay motivated. I want them to come to work. I want all those things. And they’re doing that. Right now, we’ve got the right balance on that, but it’s a concern, and it’s a huge part of my day-to-day thinking of how I have to lead the department.”

But Beck will soon return to Los Angeles, and Brown will move into the fifth floor office in CPD’s Bronzeville headquarters. He will take over a department that still faces a host of problems, including compliance with the federal consent decree that was spurred by the 2014 Laquan McDonald shooting; a rank-and-file police union that has been working without a contract for more than two years; and the city’s entrenched gun violence.

“I’ve told him it’s a great police department that is crying out for a strong leader, and I think he can be that guy,” Beck said of Brown. “You want a leader that is strong internally and seen as compassionate and fair externally. I think David fits that bill.”

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