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Chicago Searches For New Top Cop


These days, a big-city police chief doesn't last long in that job - four years if they're lucky. That's been the case in Chicago, the country's second-largest police department. The last two superintendents each spent less than five years as the city's top cop. Now the city's on the search for a new one, and people in Chicago have strong opinions about what they want. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The first public conversations about Chicago's next police superintendent opened in the sanctuary of a church on the city's South Side.

GHIAN FOREMAN: Thank you. Good evening.


FOREMAN: My name is Ghian Foreman. I'm the president...

CORLEY: Ghian Foreman is the head of the Chicago Police Board. That's a group that will recruit, interview and ultimately select three finalists to present to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The board got an earful from regular Chicagoans.

ERIC RUSSELL: So the one thing that we want to make sure of is that this process isn't another dog and pony show because the mayor isn't the only one that don't like being lied to. Our community does not like being lied to.

CORLEY: Eric Russell (ph) is like many in the city who have strong feelings about the Chicago Police Department. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who campaigned on police reform, is another. She fired former Superintendent Eddie Johnson just weeks before he was to retire, saying he lied to her about an incident where police found him asleep at the wheel of a running car.

Three years ago, Lightfoot led the police board when former Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Johnson's predecessor. He also rejected the police board's recommendations and selected Johnson as superintendent. Whoever Lightfoot selects to lead the department next will be the city's third superintendent since 2011.

Renee Collins (ph) says that person should come from the outside.

RENEE COLLINS: The culture inside the Chicago Police Department is so corrupt at this point that insider cannot change them.

CORLEY: But Gladys Drew-Anderson (ph), a retired law enforcement officer, favors the inside track.

GLADYS DREW-ANDERSON: The superintendent, first of all, has to come up through the ranks. They know what's happening out there.

CORLEY: The next Chicago police superintendent will have to take on some big challenges and entrenched problems - prolific gun violence in some neighborhoods, a lack of trust between residents and police. Plus, he or she will have to work under a consent decree designed to overhaul the entire department. That came as a result of widespread protest over a police shooting of a black teenager, which led to the firing of the police superintendent at the time and a Department of Justice investigation.

ROBERT BIEKMAN: I'd like to see a superintendent that has heart...

CORLEY: Robert Biekman (ph), a pastor, says honesty and integrity are key for any police superintendent. But heart, he says, is just as important.

BIEKMAN: ...Somebody who connects with community, which has been failing in some of our previous superintendents.

CORLEY: Chuck Wexler is the head of the Police Executive Research Forum. It's a police think tank based in Washington that keeps track of the reform efforts here and in other cities. Wexler says just like in New Orleans and Baltimore, a new Chicago superintendent might find the consent decree is not just a challenge but an opportunity to rebuild the city's police department.

CHUCK WEXLER: For example, changing use of force policies that require new training, new technology, all sorts of things that a department might not get.

CORLEY: And while the Chicago Police Board continues to ask people what they want in a superintendent, the board is also reaching out to potential candidates locally and across the country. Anyone looking to turn around a big-city police department has until mid-January to get an application in.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.