CHICAGO - A day before Chicago’s embattled police superintendent steps down, the head of a new civilian commission tasked with finding his replacement vowed to find a "visionary" who can shepherd the department through "a time of great challenge and change" without bowing to an incoming mayor who will inevitably have the final pick.
Police Supt. David Brown’s tenure was marked by skyrocketing violent crime, low morale, controversial policy decisions and missteps on the city’s arduous road to reform.
The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability now faces its first real test in conducting a nationwide search for his successor and presenting three candidates to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s replacement by mid-July.
"We need a superintendent who can inspire and lead. And who can bring people together, who can foster healing and who can try to move now towards a brighter and more just future for all Chicagoans," Anthony Driver Jr., the commission’s interim president, told reporters at City Hall Wednesday. "The safety of our communities depend on it."
Mayoral candidates Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas had vowed to fire Brown, and have since said they would prefer hiring someone from within the department.
But commissioners insisted the incoming mayor won’t have outsized influence in recommending finalists and won’t be able to subvert the process, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel did when he rejected three finalists chosen by the Police Board and picked Eddie Johnson without the former superintendent even applying.
Driver said the commission’s goal "is to find the best candidate to lead the Chicago Police Department, whether they come from within the department or outside of it."
"We’re not here to serve an administration, we’re not here to serve the City Council," added Driver, the executive director of the SEIU Illinois State Council. "We are here to serve the community."
Following decades of calls for more civilian oversight of the police department, the City Council passed an ordinance in July 2021 creating both the commission and new councils covering each of the city’s 22 police districts.
The district councils, which recently had their first elections, are charged with bolstering community relations with the police and nominating members to the commission.
During the search for the next superintendent, the commission will hold at least four public meetings across the city while also engaging officers, policing experts and community and advocacy groups "to ensure that our process is accountable and responsive to the needs of all Chicago residents," Commissioner Remel Terry said.
Starting Thursday, when Brown formally leaves, the commission will have 120 days to put forth its recommendations to the future mayor, who could reject the picks and ask for another list of three.
Driver said his team is looking for a leader who has experience working under a federal consent decree mandating sweeping police reforms. The CPD’s consent decree was enacted in 2019 in the wake of a federal probe of the police killing of teenager Laquan McDonald.
"We’ve been researching folks who have had success and what they’ve done in those cities," Driver said. "And [the commission is] looking at if there’s a way to replicate that and/or make it better in Chicago."
But Driver said the commission is also looking for someone who can garner support from sworn officers of all ranks — something Brown was never able to do. Driver said that was a glaring issue when he recently joined officers on a ride-along.
"I think it was pretty clear that a lot of them felt that the superintendent at the time didn’t have their backs, and it’s not somebody who actually cared about them," he said. "Our officers are part of our community too. They live in the city of Chicago, so their input is also valuable.
"We’re looking for somebody who can get buy-in from the residents, buy-in from the department rank-and-file and buy-in from the brass and the administration," Driver said. Somebody who can collaborate and bring everybody together."