A day after a mayoral election that appeared to signal his imminent dismissal from leadership, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown informed Mayor Lori Lightfoot he would be resigning effective March 16.
Brown’s two-year tenure as Chicago’s top cop was marked by skyrocketing violence and slow progress with court-mandated police reforms as the police department struggled to navigate through a global pandemic.
“Today, Superintendent David O. Brown informed me that he would be resigning as Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department effective March 16,” Lightfoot’s office said in a statement. “I accepted his resignation and want to commend him for his accomplishments not just for the department but the entire city, including setting a record number of illegal gun recoveries for two consecutive years; leading a double digit reduction in violent crime in 2022; significant, consistent progress on the consent decree; standing up a full time recruitment team that yielded over 950 new hires last year; significantly expanding the resources for officer wellness; and promoting more women to the senior exempt ranks than ever before in the history of the department.”
Brown previously served as the Dallas police chief from 2010 to 2016 before moving on to other work, including as a TV analyst for ABC News, and eventually becoming Lightfoot’s choice to lead the department. Lightfoot’s loss in Tuesday’s mayoral election all but guaranteed Brown’s exit, as her challengers had pledged to replace him.
Both Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson, who advanced to the mayoral runoff, had said they did not intend to keep him on.
“I personally want to thank him for his service to our city,” Lightfoot’s statement continued. “First Deputy Eric Carter will be appointed as interim superintendent until the new Mayor is sworn into office. We ask the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability to immediately begin the search for a new Superintendent so that the new Mayor will be able to make a selection as soon as possible.”
Brown issued his own statement Wednesday, saying he would take a position as CEO of a personal injury law firm in Texas.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to work alongside the brave men and women of the Chicago Police Department,” Brown said. “I will continue to pray that all officers return home to their families safe at the end of their shift. May the Good Lord bless the city of Chicago and the men and women who serve and protect this great city.”
In April 2020, days before being confirmed as superintendent by the City Council, Brown sought to convince aldermen that his upbringing in a tough area of Dallas was similar to parts of Chicago that struggle with violence, poverty and other challenges.
“While many people may think of Dallas like the 1980s TV show, J.R. Ewing, and cattle ranchers and 10-gallon hats and oil fields, I grew up in a neighborhood that looked more like Chicago’s West and South Side,” Brown had told the Chicago City Council’s Public Safety Committee. “I know the joys of living surrounded by others. I also know the struggles of growing up poor, living and working in a historically segregated city, as Dallas and Chicago share these difficult pasts and present.”
Brown told the Tribune in an interview the following month that he knew what he was getting himself into by overseeing the public safety of a city that routinely records the most killings in the country each year. He optimistically, and naively, set a goal to finish a full year in Chicago with under 300 homicides, which, if it ever happened, would be the lowest in the city since it recorded 296 in 1957.
“I believe in the impossible,” Brown told the Tribune during the May 2020 interview. “I believe we can improve our murders to historical lows, whatever that number is. If that number has to be 2-something, that’s what it has to be. We just have to first make the first step and believe that we can. And that’s my point. Moonshots.”
But Brown would be in for an unpleasant surprise in the coming months. Not only was he tasked with navigating the nation’s second largest police department through a global pandemic, but he also had to craft crime-fighting strategies to combat ever-surging violence, as well as civil unrest brought upon by the police-custody death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
During the last weekend of May 2020, a month into Brown’s time as Chicago’s top cop, the city faced massive looting, property damage, dozens of shootings that left many people killed, and a police department stretched beyond recognition. As the city spiraled into chaos, Lightfoot arranged for the Illinois National Guard to lockdown Chicago’s streets to bring calm.
In early 2021, the city’s inspector general’s office issued lengthy findings on the police department’s litany of shortcomings and inconsistencies for that weekend and the days that followed under Brown’s leadership. Police brass lacked plans for mass arrests, leading to people facing charges that were either too serious or too light, according to a report from then-Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.
Officers were often unclear on who was in charge or what they were supposed to do. Scattered direction led to “strategic and tactical incoherence,” according to the report, where early in the protests police generally did not make arrests when people damaged property but the next day were told to crack down on vandals.
Echoing the complaints of protesters that police reacted brutally with batons and pepper spray, Ferguson pointed to “out-of-policy, dangerous and disrespectful actions by CPD members.” The full extent of those excesses may never be clear, however, because many officers failed to wear or switch on body cameras, Ferguson wrote. He noted also that some officers covered their names and star numbers.
In the immediate aftermath of that May 2020 weekend, Brown knew he had to make some internal changes.
The start of his tenure as top cop marked the beginning stages of a massive CPD reorganization that was put into place a few months earlier by then-interim police Superintendent Charlie Beck, former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, which adopted a similar structure.
The reorganization in Chicago called for the movement of hundreds of cops from CPD’s specialized gang and drug units, along with detectives, to the patrol division, so police officials there could use them more efficiently to address neighborhood issues. Beck, however, did not include room for a roving citywide unit that parachutes into crime hot spots. But it was one of Brown’s first moves in Chicago.
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