What Chicagoans Want In Their Next Police Superintendent

Carolyn Ruff
Carolyn Ruff addresses the Chicago Police Board on Wednesday, December 11 2019. Ruff was one of about 60 Chicagoans who came out to tell the board what they want to see in the city’s next police superintendent Patrick Smith / WBEZ
Carolyn Ruff
Carolyn Ruff addresses the Chicago Police Board on Wednesday, December 11 2019. Ruff was one of about 60 Chicagoans who came out to tell the board what they want to see in the city’s next police superintendent Patrick Smith / WBEZ

What Chicagoans Want In Their Next Police Superintendent

Chicago residents on Wednesday told the city’s police board that Chicago’s next top cop should be someone with a willingness to confront the department’s racism and code of silence, a person with compassion for cops and the people they police and a leader with a strategy to improve the city’s dismal record solving murders.

The police board is tasked with finding the right person to replace former police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who was fired earlier this month because of a drinking and driving scandal. By city ordinance, the board conducts a search and then forwards the names of three finalists to the Mayor who picks one of the finalists to lead the Chicago Police Department.

To aid in that quest, the board scheduled a trio of meetings this week to get public input on the qualifications and experience they should seek in candidates.

Wednesday night’s meeting was held at the Muslim Community Center on Chicago’s Northwest Side. About 60 people were in attendance, along with five members of the nine-person board.

Hawa Foster said because of the expanding role of police officers, the ideal candidate would have a background in social work.

“Police in our communities aren’t just there as law enforcement. So they’re not just people with guns…They wear a lot of different hats,” Foster said.

Carol Maher told the board members that the next superintendent needs to show he or she is willing to admit there is a tendency among Chicago officers to lie and cover for each other.

“Everyone in this room who doesn’t work for CPD knows of bad coworkers,” Maher said. “Not in the CPD, we never talk about bad characters. There’s never been a bad officer. The last superintendent had never heard of the code of silence. I think he was the only one in Chicago. I think the superintendent needs to lead on that fact that the code of silence exists.”

Carolyn Ruff said it was important the city’s next top cop be a woman and come from outside the department.

Eva Skowronski, who is white, said the next superintendent needs to be black.

“I would like to see the new superintendent be able to restore more trust in the police department, because if we cannot work with the communities, we can’t get anywhere,” Skowronski added. “So he has to be able to have compassion for the residents. He has to have compassion for his officers. And he may have to have some compassion even for someone who has been injured by the police department.”

Flora Suttle, a retired Chicago police officer who spent 20 years on the force, said the next superintendent needs to confront head on the racism within the department.

“We need to have an open discussion about the racist culture that exists within the police department. We know it’s there. People don’t like to say it,” Suttle said.

A few speakers later, Flora Suttle’s granddaughter, La’Rie Suttle addressed the board members and said she is preparing to take the police entrance exam in January.

“I’m excited but nervous about the situation,” La’Rie Suttle said.

Flora Suttle said she tried to discourage her granddaughter from joining the force, but she said she kept taking her to events with current and former cops … and she became committed to making the department better by joining up.

La’Rie Suttle said she hopes the next superintendent has integrity and a moral compass.

The police board is accepting applications for superintendent for another month. Then the board members will review those applications and bring in a handful of candidates for interviews before nominating the three finalists.

The final chance for the public to give input before that happens is Thursday evening at the JLM Community Center, 2622 W. Jackson Blvd.

Police board President Ghian Foreman said there were common themes through the first two meetings including training, officer mental health and community policing.

“These are the things that will help inform us as we’re going through our deliberations and the questions that we’re asking [candidates],” Foreman said.

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