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Police Board Gets an Earful at Englewood Forum on Next Top Cop

By  Alex Nitkin and Tatiana Walk-Morris | January 12, 2016 3:37pm | Updated on January 13, 2016 7:02am

 WVON anchor Dometi Pongo moderated the forum, hosted by the Chicago Police Board and the Chicago Urban League.
WVON anchor Dometi Pongo moderated the forum, hosted by the Chicago Police Board and the Chicago Urban League.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

ENGLEWOOD — The Chicago Police Board turned to the public for guidance Tuesday in its search for the city's next police superintendent, as hundreds of community members crowded into the Kennedy-King College auditorium, 740 W. 63rd St., to lend their voices to the process.

City law mandates that the police board hand the mayor a list of three candidates to consider for one of the city's top police job. The board will stop accepting applications on Friday, at which point it will begin interviewing candidates.

"We want to make sure we understand all the issues you've already articulated to us, so we can present the mayor with applicants who are more than qualified for the job," Police Board President Lori Lightfoot told the audience before inviting visitors to step up to microphones. "We know people haven't been shy about expressing their opinions in a variety of ways, but we wanted to reach out to hear from you all in a more organized fashion."

Tension steadily ratcheted up during the two-hour event as dozens of Chicagoans took turns offering statements that ranged from incredulous to indignant.

Some, like Rogers Park community organizer Michael Harrington, came prepared with a laundry list of questions to bring before the candidates.

"Will [the superintendent] end our reliance on weapons? Adding Tasers won't end police violence," Harrington said before the crowd, referring to Emanuel's recent promise to double the number of Tasers available to officers. "Ask if the new superintendent will devote multi-million dollar expenditures not on weaponry and military gear, but on human development and community-building."

Others were more focused on finding someone who could push for changes in the contract negotiated by the Fraternal Order of Police, which in many cases protects officers who have committed misconduct.

"If there's a contract that protects officers who kill unarmed black people, we need to open that contract up and change it," Zakiyyah Muhammad said. "Because if I kill you, I don't go back to work the next day, or get assigned to desk duty. I go to jail."

Many other speakers, though, doubted that any of their points would reach Emanuel, who has the ultimate say in who will run the city's police force.

Darryl Smith, president of the Englewood Political Task Force, pointed out that all the members of the police board were handpicked by the mayor.

"This city has lost faith in our mayor ... so why should we have any faith in this board?" Smith said. "Where's the community involvement in the selection of our next superintendent? Will the candidates be brought out to be vetted by the community? Because otherwise, we won't know if we have a trustworthy board making a fair and impartial selection."

Activist Ja'Mal Green went further, calling all seven board members "puppets" of the mayor.

"At the end of the day, we need to get the mayor out, and put this process back into the community's hands," Green said. "Otherwise we'll just go back to business as usual, and this will all have been a big show."

At one point during the meeting, some community members began counting to 16 in reference to the Laquan McDonald case, in which the teen was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer.

The evening's moderator, WVON anchor Dometi Pongo, repeatedly said it was the first time the police board had ever opened itself to public input for its decision, calling the effort "groundbreaking."

After the meeting, Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) insisted that the comments hadn't fallen on deaf ears, naming a handful of other aldermen — including Raymond Lopez (15th), David Moore (17th) and Scott Waugespak (35th) — who sat in on the event.

"This was outstanding — if this hadn't taken place tonight, we wouldn't have had all these people out here trying to engage the process in a way that's effective," Cochran said. The Police Board "said they'd be receptive to the comments brought up here, and I believe them."

Echoing several of the evening's speakers, Cochran added that he hoped the next superintendent would be African-American.

"You need to be able to create a culture where officers and supervisors can relate to the people they serve," Cochran said.

The last police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, served from 2011 to Dec. 1, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked him to step aside amid the growing fallout over the 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald. Since then, John Escalante served as interim superintendent.

In an effort to win back the public's trust, Emanuel also ousted Independent Police Review Authority Scott Ando last month and appointed federal prosecutor Sharon Fairley to replace him.

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