Aides to embattled Chicago Police Supt. David Brown have begun preparing a “legacy document” of his accomplishments and goals, apparently laying the groundwork for his exit, a source told the Sun-Times.
With crime the top issue on the minds of Chicago voters, all eight mayoral challengers have vowed to fire Brown. Lightfoot has promised to retain him, and has been denying rumors of his imminent exit since a few months after he arrived from Dallas in 2020.
In January 2022, four high-ranking police supervisors told the Sun-Times Brown was unfit to serve as superintendent and had lost the confidence of his own command staff.
The supervisors all commented on condition of anonymity so they could speak freely. But their outspokenness — following the deadliest year in Chicago in a generation, with more than 800 homicides — was rare nevertheless.
Even if Lightfoot wins a second term and allows Brown to keep his job, he could be just months away from being forced out anyway.
On Oct. 22, Brown will turn 63, the mandatory retirement age for Chicago police officers and firefighters. The last two Chicago fire commissioners — Jose Santiago and Richard C. Ford II — were required to retire at 63.
Facing the same mandate, Brown would have to leave voluntarily or stay as a civilian employee — but without the uniform that was so important to Brown, he went through the police academy right after being hired.
A police spokesperson wouldn’t comment on Brown’s plans.
The last five Chicago police superintendents — not counting interim Supt. Charlie Beck — all lasted at least three years: Terry Hillard, Phil Cline, Jody Weis, Garry McCarthy and Eddie Johnson. McCarthy and Johnson were fired.
Lightfoot chose Brown after firing Johnson, who had at first announced he was retiring from the department. Before his retirement took effect, Lightfoot terminated him over an incident that culminated with Johnson being found slumped over and sleeping behind the wheel of his police SUV after drinking in a bar earlier in the evening.
A department supervisor told the Sun-Times aides in Brown’s office began compiling what the source described as a legacy document a few weeks ago.
It highlights what Brown views as his accomplishments and charts a path forward for the department, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly and avoid potential discipline.
A police spokesperson acknowledged the document is being compiled but insisted the department “regularly sets public safety priorities as we work to strengthen safety across the city.”
“We continue to build off progress we have already made, while also setting goals in areas that we can improve on,” the spokesperson said.
Different units have been asked to contribute to the document, which the source acknowledged could be used to push back on criticism of Brown’s tenure, and that Brown himself could use to seek a new gig.
The police rumor mill started working overtime about Brown’s “imminent” exit months after his hiring. Some of Lightfoot’s own advisers have recommended dumping Brown.
In recent weeks, Brown has become less visible.
Instead of Brown addressing the news media after certain major crimes, members of the command staff have handled that duty. And at the end of summer, he stopped holding news conferences every Monday morning to rehash weekend violence.
All eight mayoral challengers have accused Brown of losing the faith of demoralized and overworked rank-and-file officers who are retiring faster than replacements can be hired.
Lightfoot had her eye on Brown from the moment she fired Johnson, and chose Brown the day after she received the names of three finalists from the police board.
Brown started just as the stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning.
CPD was in the midst of a reorganization spearheaded by Beck, the interim superintendent. Specialized units were being disbanded. Those officers, including detectives, were reassigned to neighborhood police districts.
Brown reversed field, enlarging citywide units and relying on them even more after demonstrations triggered by the murder of George Floyd devolved into looting.
City Council members accused Brown of raiding their areas to staff those citywide units and protect downtown Chicago at the expense of the neighborhoods.
Brown also drew fire for ousting his head of reform, Robert Boik, after Boik wrote an email warning that transferring officers from the Office of Constitutional Policing to patrol would make it impossible to meet the training requirements in a federal consent decree governing police reform.
Brown and Lightfoot have recently embraced a strategy of flooding Chicago’s most violent areas with additional officers, violence interrupters and other city resources.
In 2022, homicides fell 14% and shootings fell 20% compared to the year before. But overall crime rose more than 40%. And homicides and shootings remain significantly higher than before the pandemic.
Through the first week of February, homicides are down 19% compared with last year, while shootings have dropped 6%. But crime overall is up 60%, including a 160% jump in vehicle theft.
Brown, a decorated member of the Dallas Police Department, announced his retirement as chief a few months after five officers were killed and nine wounded in a July 2016 ambush.
Brown was branded both hero and villain for deciding to use an explosives-equipped robot to kill the shooter. He then wrote a memoir and was an ABC News commentator before resurrecting his police career in Chicago.
If Brown leaves soon, a nationwide search for his replacement would be conducted by interim members of the new Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability.
Brown has met several times with that commission to discuss performance goals — but insisted those goals could not include matters covered by the consent decree governing reforms.
Commission members disagreed. Brown then relented, citing an opinion from the city’s Law Department.
His reversal on setting goals for his future performance fueled even more speculation that he may not expect to be around long enough to be held accountable for meeting those goals.