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Should Chicago's New Top Cop Have More Big City Experience Than Last Guy?

By Mark Konkol | March 23, 2016 5:47am | Updated on March 23, 2016 12:32pm
 (left to right) Eugene Williams, Anne Kirkpatrick and Cedric Alexander are finalists for Chicago's police superintendent job.
(left to right) Eugene Williams, Anne Kirkpatrick and Cedric Alexander are finalists for Chicago's police superintendent job.
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CHICAGO — An astute observer of City Hall dysfunction called to crack wise about the three finalists for the top cop job that the police board plopped on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s desk.

“Maybe the guy Rahm fired, Garry McCarthy, should reapply to get his job back,” the smart aleck said. “At least the guy had experience as a boss in big city departments.”

We had a good laugh … but then there’s the news of suicide bombers in Brussels targeting a subway and airport.

Suddenly, the possibility that Chicago’s next police superintendent might not have the kind of leadership experience McCarthy had wasn’t a joke.

McCarthy came to town with seven years as a member of the New York Police Department’s top brass and five years as top cop in Newark, N.J.

After McCarthy got fired in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting scandal, much of the talk about finding his replacement has revolved around the very serious issues — lying officers, excessive use of deadly force and a broken system for investigating police misconduct to name a few — that plague an embattled police department that’s being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Mark Konkol talks about the importance of Emanuel's choice for next head of CPD.

Plus, there’s the skyrocketing number of shootings and murders that some people believe could be related to police officers on the street becoming less aggressive because they fear City Hall doesn't “have their back.”

When you throw in the threat of a terrorist attack hitting Chicago, it makes sense to wonder: Doesn’t Chicago deserve a top cop that can at least match McCarthy’s resume?

I don’t think a person’s pedigree, plans and philosophy means they will excel at their job. But experience, well, that means a lot.

The Chicago Police Board’s three finalists certainly have had distinguished careers, each of them has earned respect from their peers and, as far as I can tell from their answers to application essay questions, have plans they believe would improve our city’s police department.

But not one of them can say they’ve been in charge of a city with a subway, two airports and a couple dozen other legit terrorist targets, not to mention warring gang factions at the heart of a shooting epidemic that shows no sign of slowing down.

Admittedly, there’s a small pool of a candidates who actually have that kind of experience in the first place.

Some people will tell you that despite McCarthy’s experience, his time spent in both Newark and Chicago has been followed up by visits from the Justice Department. [It’s worth pointing out that City Hall, not McCarthy, was responsible for trying to keep video of the Laquan McDonald shooting secret, a move that ultimately got him fired and prompted the federal probe of Chicago’s department. Many people believe McCarthy unwillingly became Emanuel’s fall guy].

Plus, as I pointed out a few months ago, it takes a special kind of person who would actually want to be Chicago’s next police superintendent when they’d be signing up to work for a tyrannical big city boss at a time of citywide unrest and distrust in local law enforcement.

Only 39 people applied for the job, one of the most prestigious law enforcement gigs in America.

The field of candidates was a mixed bag of under-qualified applicants that had no real shot at the job and law enforcement professionals from big cities and smaller departments who had credentials worth considering, according to people who know about the police board process.

When Police Board President Lori Lightfoot says DeKalb County, Georgia public safety director Cedric Alexander, retired Spokane, Wash. police chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Chicago Deputy Supt. Eugene Williams were the best of the bunch there’s no reason not to believe her.

Still, Kirkpatrick served as police chief in a city that doesn’t have a subway. Alexander’s terrorism experience amounts to running TSA operations at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

And Williams, a favorite pushed by African American aldermen and ministers, touted the effectiveness of the “aggressive, highly motivated officers” of the CPD’s notorious and now defunct Special Operations Section, arguably among the most corrupt and abusive police units in America, in his answer to an application essay question about ways to stem the tide of rising violence here.

The question remains: Does Chicago deserve a top cop that’s even more qualified than the people who were willing to apply for a job that offers a mountain range of challenges to overcome, a canyon of uncertainty to navigate and a myriad of political cliffs to get shoved off?

That’s the essence of what might be the most important decision Mayor Emanuel will ever make.

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