CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot is appointing former Dallas Police Chief David Brown as the new permanent superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, replacing Eddie Johnson, who was fired last December.
Lightfoot’s announcement comes one day after the Chicago Police Board released a list of three finalists for the position: Brown, CPD Deputy Chief of Patrol Ernest Cato III, and Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman.
Lightfoot called them “three outstanding candidates, saying Ziman “a woman of great talent and skill,” and Cato “a distinguished member of the Chicago Police Department,” but said Brown is her choice.
“In this time, for this moment, David Brown is the absolute best,” she said Thursday afternoon.
Lightfoot also called Brown “an expert in anguish” who has personally faced the tragedy of gun violence several times in his career.
His former partner was killed in the line of duty in 1988, and his brother, Calvin, was shot and killed by drug dealers in 1991. His own son, David Brown Jr., shot and killed a police officer in 2010, shortly after Brown became police chief in Dallas. The younger brown was then killed in a shootout with police. In 2016, a sniper killed five police officers in an ambush attack in Dallas.
“Death, especially gun violence leading to death, has come directly to David Brown’s doorstep, and draped itself around him,” the mayor said.
Saying that the hundreds of murders and thousands of shootings that plague the city each year are “eating away at the fabric of who we are, and who we should be,” Lightfoot said she is determined to fix the problem.
“Making Chicago the safest big city in the country is not some nicety, it is an imperative,” she said.
Lightfoot said Brown displayed “extraordinarily leadership” in his six years leading the Dallas Police Department, and said she was “totally committed to his success” at CPD.
“Because his success means the department’s success, and the department’s success means our city – each and every one of our residents – will enjoy the peace and prosperity that comes when streets are safe,” she said.
The mayor said Dallas and Chicago have many similarities when it comes to policing, and said he started bringing some changes to the Dallas police force years before Chicago embraced the same reforms, such as equipping all officers with body cameras. She also noted, under Brown’s command, Dallas was the first city to implement department-wide de-escalation training for officers, while also executg community policing initiatives, expanding mental health supports for officers, increased diversity in the ranks, and published never-before-released data on police use of force. The mayor said all those moves helped Dallas’ crime rate drop to 50-year lows.
“When Chief Brown took over as chief in 2010, that police department was facing many of the challenges that we are now, and he embraced the change and reform that was necessary to rebuild the trust with the community, and do it in a way that he brought officers along the journey. He never lost sight of the fact that the men and women who serve need to be supported,” she said.
Brown, who served on the Dallas police force for more than 30 years, said the desire to serve the public is a “a fire in my bones.”
“The call to service and to rise is one that is heard across the nation,” he said. “As any police officer tells you, it’s a call that crosses city lines, and transcends state borders.”
Brown, 59, said Chicago is a lot like his hometown of Dallas: “strong, proud, and tough; not to mention the great barbecue.”
Interim Supt. Charlie Beck, who has been running CPD since Johnson was fired in December, said “It has been a great honor to serve the city of Chicago.”
Beck said the selection of Brown as the next superintendent would be “historic” for the city.
“He’s a strong man with a good heart, who believes in public safety, and who believes in community policing. He will make a great leader, and he will make this department and this city much better than it is today,” he said.
The City Council will now have to confirm Brown as superintendent before he officially takes over for Beck.
Lightfoot choked up thanking Beck for his service to Chicago over the past few months.
“You came to us in our time of need,” she said. “I have no adequate words to express my personal gratitude for all you have given our city, and our men and women of the Chicago Police Department, but I will nonetheless say thank you for your service. Your imminent departure is indeed bittersweet.”
Brown will take over at an especially challenging time, not just because of the coronavirus pandemic, but because the department is under a court-monitored consent decree mandating sweeping changes to its practices and procedures regarding the use of force, as well as to the training and supervision of officers.
A scathing Justice Department report in 2016 found systemic abuses by the Chicago Police Department against minorities, including officers routinely using excessive force against African Americans and Hispanics.
Lightfoot said she considered Brown as a possible candidate for the top job at CPD as far back as December.
“The practical reality is, when you think about the second largest police department in the country, in a consent decree, and a lot of assets but a lot of challenges, there’s a small handful of people in the country that really are qualified to be able to take the helm as the superintendent of police, and certainly David Brown’s name came to me as I started having conversations with people across the country,” she said.
Brown, who retired as Dallas police chief in 2016, found himself in the national spotlight his last year on the force, after a sniper killed five police officers in an ambush attack in Dallas in 2016, and he ordered the use of a remote-controlled robot equipped with a bomb to kill the gunman. Brown served more than 30 years on the police force in Dallas before stepping down as chief in 2016.