The Chicago Police Board held a community listening meeting at East Garfield Park’s Community Center, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd., on Dec. 12, in order to get a sense of what Chicagoans want from the next police superintendent. Most of the meeting attendees who spoke, however, weren’t impressed with the search process.
Some speakers questioned the entire process, wondering if anything they said would have any impact. Several argued that, for all of the promises from city and police officials that oversight would be more accountable and that the police would improve the relationship with the community, there seems to be little to show for them.
Some people even questioned the legitimacy of the police board itself, arguing that an elected body would be more suitable than the current, mayor-appointed police board, for hiring the kind of superintendent Chicagoans want.
Those who did address the superintendent qualifications directly said they wanted someone who would make hiring more black officers a priority and someone who would understand the needs of the community. They also called for a superintendent who would prioritize community engagement and training in violence de-escalation.
The Chicago Police Board is made up of nine civilian members appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council. Mayor Lori Lightfoot served as the police board president before she launched her mayoral campaign. The board’s two major duties are deciding whether to discipline police officers for misconduct and searching for police superintendent candidates.
The police board narrows the field of candidates down to three, and the mayor must either choose one or ask the board to try again. Most recently, when then-mayor Rahm Emanuel was looking for a successor to Garry McCarthy, he controversially rejected all of the board candidates and had the City Council temporarily change the rules to allow it to choose a candidate without the board’s input. This allowed Emanuel to push through the ex-police superintendent Eddie Johnson, who the mayor fired on Dec. 2.
Although Johnson was originally supposed to retire at the end of the year, Lightfoot wound up firing him for allegedly lying about the circumstances of an incident on Oct. 17, when he was discovered slumped behind the wheel of his SUV. The city inspector general launched an investigation.
While the details have not been released, media reports indicate that he was out for drinks with a woman who wasn’t his wife. Lightfoot subsequently appointed Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck as interim superintendent.
As part of its effort to find Johnson’s replacement, the police board is doing more community outreach. Last week, it held three meetings — two on the South Side and one, the Dec. 12 meeting, on the West Side.
Activist Pamela Hunt said that the Chicago Police Department hasn’t been living up to promises that it would use more de-escalation techniques. She also expressed skepticism that the board would understand what the community wants, pointing to the fact that the majority of its members are white.
“You all need to be clear, black people are tired, and that’s the feeling the white community can never understand,” said Hunt, who is black.
Turning to superintendent qualifications, several West Siders said that they wanted someone who would improve public safety and someone who would make hiring black officers a priority.
Alees Edwards, of Austin, wanted a superintendent who would get serious about rooting out police corruption.
“I believe if you stop that, you would stop all of that senseless violence,” she said, adding that, as a black woman, she would prefer a black woman to be appointed as a superintendent.
Renee Price, also of Austin, cited the shooting of Quintonio LeGrier and other incidents as examples of why the next superintendent should focus on ensuring more officers receive crisis intervention training. And she also wanted a superintendent who would support, and be involved with, the Community Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS). A lot of positive things happened with CAPS under Johnson, Price said, and she would like to see the next superintendent to build on that.
Sue Lenzen, of West Humboldt Park, said that she and her family lived in on the West Side for 80 years. She said she wanted a superintendent who “can prioritize the West Side and clean up open-air [drug] street markets.”
“Help us out by doing your job, communicate with people, and respect it,” Lenzen said. “I travel all over the entire city, and I don’t see all the chaos and nonsense going on in the entire [11th] district.”
Milton Johnson, director of community relations at the Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Behavioral Health Center said he wanted a responsive superintendent who would “concentrate on the diversity on the police force.”
“And, being in mental health, I would like to see a superintendent with a social service and psychological background, one who would also understand cultural sensitivity,” he added.
In the interview immediately after the listening session, Johnson said that he wasn’t convinced anything would come out of the listening session.
“I was very reluctant to speak, because it’s getting ridiculous,” he said. “I wondered is taking the time to speak worth our while.”