Larry Snelling’s days in the $260,004-a-year hot seat reserved for Chicago’s police superintendent probably won’t get any better than Wednesday.
By a vote of 48-to-0, the Chicago City Council unanimously confirmed Mayor Brandon Johnson’s choice of what the mayor called a “son of Englewood,” with alderpersons from across the city singing his praises as the antithesis of his unpopular predecessor, David Brown.
City Clerk Anna Valencia promptly administered the superintendent’s oath to Snelling. Interim Supt. Fred Waller then pinned the superintendent’s star on his protege’s chest.
“Congratulations SUPERINTENDENT Larry Snelling,” Johnson told his new top cop after the vote.
“Today is living proof that democracy prevails,” the mayor said, thanking Chicagoans for “enduring” the first-ever, civilian-led search.
Council rules were suspended to give Snelling an opportunity to address the Council.
It’s a good thing Snelling is unlikely to let the praise and standing ovation go to his head after impressing the mayor, the Police Committee and the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability with his humility.
He’s now on the clock to confront the alarming surge of robberies and vehicular theft — some of those violent crimes in broad daylight — that has residents of North Side neighborhoods like Bucktown, Wicker Park, Lincoln Park, Old Town and Lakeview up in arms and fearing for their personal safety.
That includes a viral video posted Tuesday, showing two men on foot, one of them wearing a mask, brutally beating a man and dragging him across a Bucktown alley in the 2000 block of North Damen after the victim refused to surrender his belongings.
The predators then walked away, seemingly without fear of being chased or caught. That’s even though a motorist at the foot of the alley watched and, perhaps even recorded, the brutal beating.
Year-to-date motor vehicle thefts are up 86% citywide over the same period last year and 227% above where they were four years ago. Robberies, up 24%. Thefts, up 8%. There were, however, declines in murders (11%) and shootings (13%).
In the Shakespeare District, which includes Bucktown, Wicker Park and parts of Logan Square, robberies are up 53% over last year and 93% higher than in 2019. Motor vehicle thefts in the Shakespeare District are up by 150%.
Robberies are also up 13% this year in the Near North/18th District, which includes a large portion of Lincoln Park, data shows. That number jumps to 34% when compared to 2021.
In the Town Hall/19th District, which includes Lake View, robberies remain at the same level as last year, the data shows. But those 291 robberies mark a 54% increase from the same point in 2021.
A rash of robberies in and around the DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus has prompted the university to require its students, faculty and employees to start carrying their ID’s on campus.
“Everything about your impressive career in law enforcement has led you to this moment. Your experience has prepared you for this job, which is a difficult job. … even under the best of times. And folks, these are not the best of times,” Police Committee Chair Brian Hopkins (2nd) said Wednesday.
“Our residents do not feel safe in their communities. We all know that. We’re all committed to changing that.”
Hopkins then discussed the “armed robbery spree … sweeping” Chicago. Over four hours Tuesday, there were “15 armed robberies in four hours by the same crew,” the chairman said.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetime. It’s a disturbing new trend and it requires new thinking and new leadership from the police department. Better use of technology. Better use of training. Better use of the new police academy. All of those things … await you on Day One. … I know that you’re up to the task,” Hopkins said.
The debate that was more like a testimonial got under way shortly after noon and lasted for just over .
One by one, Council members rose to talk about their high hopes for Snelling and their confidence the transition from Interim Supt. Fred Waller to his protégé will be, as Ald. David Moore (17th) put it, the “most seamless” in CPD history.
“I know that because I worked with him in Englewood. … I saw him have the compassion for the people. But when it was time to stand up and protect the citizens — especially our seniors, especially our young people — he was there on the front lines,” Moore said.
The political tightrope Snelling must walk was also on display.
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), one of the police union’s staunchest Council supporters, talked about the progressive push to defund police, a concept once championed by Johnson himself before he distanced himself from that talk during a mayoral campaign dominated by the surge in violent crime.
“There is so much politics, so many narratives, so many agendas out to disrupt the most basic covenant of government, which is to keep our citizens safe,” Lopez said.
“I believe our new superintendent … will be able to stand firm when the politics of this building and out try to tear him and his department down for the sake of creating a police-free society. … We are not here to promote abolishing the department. … We are here to show that you can have constitutional policing, safe policing and proud policing all in the same city. Larry Snelling will prove that is possible.”
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) exemplified the other end of the political spectrum.
She was reduced to tears as she talked about the desperate need for police accountability after countless examples of police abuse and wrongdoing that have cost Black men their freedom and Chicago taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in settlements.
“Too often, when we complain about the police in our community, we’re told we’re wrong. The thought that we’ve got survivors from [Jon] Burge who are saying that they don’t deserve this money or they’ve been wrongly convicted and we get ’em a couple of million dollars? They could never get back that time that was taken away from them,” Taylor said.
Taylor said “too many people” in her impoverished South Side ward “complain about folks not responding to them.”
“We’re quick to say it’s the people who wear the blue. No, it’s the system. I want us to remember what this system came out of. Policing came out of because we stopped slavery. I want us never to forget that. But I also don’t want us to forget something that Supt. Snelling said. These are people. They’re human. They make mistakes. But where’s the accountability to the community?” Taylor said.
Snelling, 54, is the CPD’s former counterterrorism chief who spent much of his police career at the police academy. He trained many current officers with a tough-love, don’t-let-them-fail approach that earned their trust and admiration.
That’s why he was among three finalists chosen by the civilian oversight panel and why Johnson picked him for an appointment that can make or break any Chicago mayor.
During his inaugural news conference and again at his love-fest of a confirmation hearing, Snelling promised to improve officer wellness and training, overhaul promotions and reduce violent crime by remembering “forgotten” crime victims and rebuilding shattered trust between citizens and police.
It showed again why Johnson views him as the best hope to improve police morale and reverse a mass exodus of officers that has left the Chicago Police Department with nearly 1,700 fewer officers than just four years ago.
“When these officers feel good about themselves, they feel good about the department. When they feel good about the job that they’re doing, they’ll feel good and great with the community. In order for our officers to love someone else, we have to love them,” Snelling said at his first news conference.
Loving officers and paying attention to their mental health means not saddling them with excessive amounts of overtime and canceled days off, Snelling said then.
They’re not “robots … made on a conveyor belt. … They’re human beings,” he said, with wives, husbands, children and elderly parents and grandparents.
“We have to be cognizant of what we’re doing to these officers when we’re canceling days off. We have to give them notice when that happens,” Snelling said then.
“The things that are said to these officers now, the disrespect — that’s huge for our officers. How do they get over that? We have to make sure that we’re providing them with everything that we can provide them with so that they’re well and they can get over the hump of not being respected most times or seeing death. Our officers are resilient, but we have to give them more to continue to be resilient.”
Snelling has argued emphatically that training Chicago police officers should not simply be an exercise in checking boxes to comply with a federal court consent decree outlining required CPD reforms.
“When we do that, we lose the quality in that training. Officers want good training. And when they get it, they want more of it. However, if we’re just looking to get officers through 40 hours of training, then what we’re doing is we’re putting officers through training, but we’re not training officers,” Snelling said.
Charlie Beck, the former Los Angeles police chief who served as Chicago’s interim superintendent, has advised Snelling to “work on morale” by getting rid of merit promotions that he abolished only to have his successor, Brown, restore them.
But Snelling, whose meteoric rise through the ranks benefited from two merit promotions, has flatly declared: “Merit promotions will stay. … I would like to see the entire promotional process changed to take merit into account for promotion and not just a test. This will give everybody a great opportunity of being promoted.”
Johnson has vowed to listen to, and collaborate with, his new superintendent.
That promise will be put to the test when it comes to his campaign promise to eliminate the ShotSpotter gunshot detection technology.
Johnson campaigned on a promise to stop using ShotSpotter, but signed an $11 million extension after taking office. Snelling defended the technology in a November 2021 council committee hearing.
Snelling’s forthrightness and humility was evident during last week’s confirmation hearing.
In his opening statement, Snelling talked about the picture of himself as a boy growing up in Englewood that he keeps in his office to remind him of “where I’ve come from and where my heart is planted.”
His willingness to stand behind the troops was evident when he defended how officers handled themselves during the demonstrations and looting after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
That’s even after the inspector general’s blistering critique of concluded CPD was “outflanked and unprepared” for problems it should have anticipated. Rank-and-file officers were “left to high-stakes improvisation without adequate supervision or guidance,” according to the inspector general.
“I saw what they dealt with. I saw the names that they were called. The yelling, the screaming. I saw the 16 hours they worked, dehydrated, hungry, sleep-deprived,” Snelling told the committee.
“They were taunted, and then they went home, and they got up and came back to work the next day to do it all over again.”