Chicago’s Top Cop Tells Recruits They May Need To Ignore Trainers And Supervisors To Do What’s Right

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown speaks at a news conference in Chicago on July 27, 2020. On Tuesday, he called on new recruits to change the department by reporting bad behavior. Teresa Crawford / Associated Press
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown speaks at a news conference in Chicago on July 27, 2020. On Tuesday, he called on new recruits to change the department by reporting bad behavior. Teresa Crawford / Associated Press

Chicago’s Top Cop Tells Recruits They May Need To Ignore Trainers And Supervisors To Do What’s Right

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown repeatedly referenced the police killing of George Floyd in a speech to the city’s newest class of police recruits Tuesday, telling the soon-to-be officers they may need to buck the department’s culture, and even their own trainers, to do what’s right.

“You know why we hired you? Because your backgrounds said you knew right from wrong. You won’t learn that at the academy,” Brown said. “That you never would let another officer, no matter how much time you have on [the force], sit on someone’s neck until they pass away, until they die. … That you wouldn’t let someone commit a crime in front of you, no matter how veteran or senior they are.”

Brown’s comments about sitting on a person’s neck are a clear reference to the way former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd in May. Two of the other officers on the scene when Floyd died were reportedly new to the police force.

Brown addressed 40 new recruits at Chicago’s police academy on the Near West Side. It is the first new class of police trainees to go through the academy since the coronavirus forced lessons to be paused in March.

“It’s extraordinary that you want to be a cop today,” Brown told the trainees. “You’re actually the first class since the George Floyd tape was released showing his murder by a cop that started [all of the civil unrest]. And myself and other police professionals around the country are struggling to hire people. And yet you all have answered the call.”

Brown told the class that they would help “save democracy” by choosing to be police officers at this difficult moment.

“I wish you could be the lead story: ‘These amazing people want to be cops in the most challenging environment to be a cop in a generation.’ I wish I could do that, but I can’t do that,” Brown said Tuesday morning. “Here’s what will happen, the mistakes you make will be above the fold. They will. They’ll be the lead story … and you’ve got to be willing to remember why you wanted to be a cop in this environment. You’ve got to remember that. Because I wish I could say it’s going to be less challenging later on in your career or that people will recognize the difficulty and challenges of the job, but that’s not likely to happen.”

And Brown said that criticism would come not just from the press, but also from the communities they would be assigned to patrol.

“Some communities need you to risk your life more than other communities, run toward danger, and won’t be grateful, won’t say thank you. Just the opposite. They will be hypercritical. Even though you just risked your life,” Brown said.

Even as Brown decried the supposed focus on police mistakes over the good work of officers, he acknowledged that “the people that criticize us make some good points.”

In particular, Brown pointed to the tendency of officers to cover up the bad behavior of their colleagues. Brown described the so-called code of silence among officers as a byproduct of the dangerous nature of policing and the need to rely on other officers for protection. He said an officer is much more likely to focus on the fact that a fellow officer saved her life than on any potential misconduct.

“It’s difficult for us to hold each other accountable because likely someone that needs to be, you know, run out this profession, did something extraordinary, courageous, brave. Likely did something to save you personally from an a** whooping from some criminal,” Brown said. “And then it’s much more difficult to say something about you if you lose your way. Likely, you’ll be quiet. And that’s the problem with our profession that critics see clearly that we’re blind to.”

Brown said it would take “extraordinary courage” from the academy class to step up and report misconduct by fellow officers. He called on the police trainees to take that courageous step if they saw misconduct in their career. But he did not mince words about the potential fallout.

Brown said officers who report misconduct will face backlash from their colleagues who will “look at you wrong” and say “I’m going to slow my response to covering you when you call [for help].”

“That’s this culture you’re getting into,” Brown said.

Throughout his 20-minute speech, Brown repeatedly referenced officers who should never have been hired or should no longer have a badge. He warned the recruits they could have these bad cops as trainers in the field or as supervisors.

“You may have a trainer or a senior veteran officer where you are assigned who we never should have hired. Or they started out great and now they lost their way, and their advice to you is the worst advice to take,” Brown said. “And you’ve got to discern, until they get in trouble and I can separate them from employment, you have to discern not to take their advice without even fully knowing the whole job.”

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.