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Ex-Dallas chief tapped to head Chicago Police Department

By Don Babwin
Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday named former Dallas police Chief David Brown to head the police force in the nation’s third largest city, touting his humility and calling him “a leader who commands respect.”

Lightfoot introduced Brown as the next superintendent of the Chicago Police Department during a news conference, saying he’s the right man for the job.

“We are Chicago and we deserve the best. And in this time, this moment, David Brown is the absolute best.”

The announcement came hours after Lightfoot announced that a member of the police force had died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The news conference was tinged with sadness with Lightfoot pointing out that, just as interim Police Superintendent Charlie Beck had to deal with the loss of one of his officers this week, Brown knows the pain of losing a fellow officer.

“Death has come directly to David Brown’s doorstep,” said the mayor. Brown lost a former partner and other officers under his command, and even his son and a brother to gun violence. 

Brown, who was one of two African Americans named as a finalist, has more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement. The 59-year-old, who retired from the Dallas force in 2016, drew widespread attention that year after five of his officers were killed in an ambush-style rifle attack and he directed officers to kill the suspect using a remote-controlled robot fixed with explosives.

Brown was the only one of the three finalists with experience leading a large police force. Still, it will be an adjustment for him, coming from a department of about 3,500 officers to one with about 13,000.

One of the other finalists was Kristen Ziman, the police chief in the Chicago suburb of Aurora. The third was Ernest Cato, a deputy chief on the Chicago police force. Cato, who is also African American, was only recently promoted to deputy chief by Beck. 

Brown’s experience made him the logical choice for Lightfoot. The mayor said one of the things that most impressed her about Brown was that he implemented many reforms in Dallas that the Chicago department is now trying to introduce. But he’s also an outsider who is far less familiar than the other two candidates. And he is coming to a police department where the rank-and-file has not always welcomed outsiders. Former superintendents Jody Weis, a former FBI special agent, and Garry McCarthy, a former high ranking member of the New York City Police Department, were not popular with the troops. 

Brown will also have to adjust to a system of government that gives him less independence. Chicago has a stronger mayor and police oversight body than in Dallas.

Adjusting to “those are probably going to be some of his toughest tasks to overcome,” said Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata.

During his tenure in Dallas, Brown took steps that were controversial among officers, including making use-of-force data public. But he was also criticized by activists who thought he blocked needed reforms, such as empowering a civilian police review board.

Brown said his experience and devotion to his job, along with the officers in his command, would help him as a leader. 

“My life and career has taken place in the city of Dallas but the call to service … is one that is heard across the nation, and it is that call that has driven everything that I have done in my career as an officer and as a public servant,” he said.

Beck and Eddie Johnson before him scrambled to regain public trust that was shattered in large part by the late-2015 release of a video of a white police officer shooting a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, 16 times. The officer, Jason Van Dyke, was convicted of murder and sent to prison, but the handling of the shooting by the department and City Hall led to the firing of McCarthy, a federal probe and a host of reforms.

The department has faced a period of uncertainty since late last year. In December, just days after Johnson announced his retirement and Lightfoot named Beck as the interim superintendent, the mayor abruptly fired Johnson. 

Lightfoot said Johnson had lied to her about an incident in October in which he was found asleep at the wheel of his vehicle after having drinks. She said Johnson’s explanation was fundamentally different than “what the facts show.” Johnson had been recorded on surveillance video drinking with a woman who was not his wife at a downtown bar.

Beck made it clear from the beginning that he did not want to be the permanent superintendent, and Lightfoot initiated a national search that led to 25 applications for the job. The police board whittled that number down to three. 

Lightfoot said she hopes the City Council will approve Brown’s appointment and that he will be on the job by the end of the month.

AP reporter Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to this story.

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