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Promising Focus On Community Policing, Acting CPD Supt. David Brown Easily Wins Public Safety Committee Approval As New Top Cop

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Acting Chicago Police Supt. David Brown sailed through his confirmation hearing on Monday, vowing to step up efforts to increase diversity among the department's top ranks, and to increase reliance on community policing strategies to help reestablish trust with the public.c

After 4 1/2 hours of questions for Brown via video conference, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to confirm the former Dallas police chief as Chicago's new top cop.

While Brown's confirmation was a foregone conclusion, nearly half of the City Council took turns questioning Brown about his plans for the department. Committee Chairman Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) wanted to know whether Brown planned to reinstate merit promotions that were suspended by his predecessor, Interim Supt. Charlie Beck. Taliaferro and other aldermen have said a merit promotion system is necessary to assure more diversity among sergeants, lieutenants, and captains.

Brown said he plans to "fast-track" a new system for merit promotions at CPD. The old system had been plagued by allegations of abuse, and a scathing Justice Department investigation of CPD found the merit promotion system was not transparent.

"I will be aggressively pursuing a replacement for merit," Brown said.

However, he said he's first awaiting an evaluation required by the court-ordered consent decree mandating sweeping reforms at the department.

"The consent decree requires that there be an independent and complete evaluation of the promotional process that speaks to diversity," Brown said. "It is my expectation that this evaluation required by the consent decree would generate a series of recommendations that will address the lack of diversity in the upper ranks of the department."

Taliaferro, a former police officer, said the department can't rely on multiple choice tests alone to decide promotions.

"If we start to rely on test-taking only as the method for promotion … we have officers that work tirelessly, work hard, and do an excellent job in policing, but they may not be good test-takers," he said.

Brown said he plans to look at the merit promotions processes of other major cities before implementing a replacement system at CPD.

"You're speaking to the choir regarding multiple choice tests not being the best type of indicator for people who might be great leaders who just don't test well," Brown said. "We want to find the gold standard testing system that meets our needs."

Brown also said the department needs to implement more professional development programs across all ranks and demographic groups to make sure qualified minority officers are promoted through the ranks.

"You have to seek out training for your rising stars," he said.

He also said he wants to create a formalized professional recruitment program for the police academy to bring in more minority recruits, rather than relying mainly on marketing campaigns.

Brown also said stepping up community policing efforts across the city will be key to reducing violent crime.

"Community policing has a connection to building trust, which makes investigating crime, solving crime, and reducing crime particularly preventative in communities that struggle with gun crime, especially," he said.

Brown said he wants to see officers reaching out more directly to minority communities, including youths, small businesses, and senior citizens.

"This is my wheelhouse. This is where I think effective policing should be. You have to be community-policing-facing in all of your efforts," he said. "I will develop and identify community policing savants to push, pull, and if necessary to drag the police department to a community policing-oriented culture that yields outcomes that make us all safer."

Brown, who spent more than 30 years with the Dallas Police Department, also defended his decision as chief to use a robot equipped with a bomb to kill a sniper who had killed five officers in 2016.

The move generated some controversy, raising questions about why he essentially decided to execute the sniper, rather than wait him out and continue negotiations.

However, Brown said the sniper never stopped shooting at police even while they were trying to negotiate a peaceful surrender. He also noted the sniper killed the fifth officer during those negotiations.

"There was not a period of time where the person stopped shooting at us at all, and he was an imminent threat," Brown said.

Brown said he'd make the same decision if he were in that situation again, and noted a grand jury found the decision was justified.

Brown also said he "wholeheartedly believes" civilians have a role in oversight of the police department, but stopped short of weighing in on a debate over whether the mayor or a civilian oversight board should have final say on CPD policy. He said he would support whatever plan the mayor and aldermen ultimately come up with.

Last month, a Public Safety Committee vote on a plan to create a civilian police oversight board was delayed amid a dispute over who would have ultimate authority for setting Chicago Police Department policy whenever the mayor and the new board disagree.

Brown said he doesn't believe it's his place to weigh in on policy, but to carry out whatever rules the mayor and City Council come up with for establishing civilian oversight.

"I'm confident that, ultimately, the mayor and the council will come to an agreement on the final outstanding issues that remain in this negotiation," Brown said. "I don't want to be the 51st alderman as it relates to policy. … I want to be supportive of whatever you decide, but I don't believe it's my role to tip the scales."

Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed Brown as superintendent on April 2, four months after firing Eddie Johnson for lying to her about an incident when he was found asleep behind the wheel of his city-issued SUV following a night of drinking.

Beck, a former Los Angeles Department police chief, served as interim superintendent for four months while the Chicago Police Board searched for Johnson's successor. Beck stepped down last week, and Brown has been serving as acting superintendent since, awaiting confirmation by the City Council

The full City Council is expected to vote to confirm Brown as superintendent on Wednesday, which will be the second time the full council will hold its meeting virtually.


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