Updated Thursday, April 2, at 8:17 p.m.
Calling him “tested and ready,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday named former Dallas Police Chief David Brown her pick to be the city’s next top cop.
Brown, selected from three finalists nominated by the Chicago Police Board this week, spent more than 30 years with the Dallas department.
He ended up in the national limelight in 2016 after a sniper killed five of the city’s cops in a downtown ambush attack. Officers under Brown’s direction killed the sniper by detonating an explosive carried by a remote-controlled robot.
Brown, 59, appeared with Lightfoot at an afternoon press conference in which the mayor lauded his Texas upbringing, his perseverance in the face of numerous professional and personal tragedies involving gun violence, and his efforts to overhaul the Dallas department.
“Growing up in the segregated South, poor and black, despite the many personal and professional accomplishments which have marked his life’s journey, David Brown views himself as part of those communities, deeply embedded in its strengths and weaknesses,” Lightfoot said.
“The Chicago Police Department — indeed this city — needs this humble leader, a man of integrity whose mettle was forged in tragedy and who strongly believes in the hope and promise that each new day brings,” Lightfoot said.
Brown said he believes Chicagoans, like the people of Dallas, have passion for improving their communities.
“That mission may seem a little distant right now as our entire country is focused on getting through the COVID-19 crisis,” Brown said. “But in many ways that mission is more important than ever as we see how vital police officers and other public servants are in our city.”
If confirmed by the City Council, Brown’s arrival as top cop would come at a crucial time in the city’s history.
Brown would lead CPD’s enforcement of social-distancing orders as spring temperatures arrive and as the city’s officers themselves struggle to avoid contracting the coronavirus.
On Thursday morning, CPD suffered its first fatality from the virus. In the afternoon, the department reported that the number of Chicago officers who have tested positive for COVID-19 had increased to 74.
Brown will also be responsible for leading CPD through a federal court-enforceable agreement aimed at overhauling the way the department trains and supervises its 13,000 officers. That “consent decree” seeks to stem decades-old police violence in Chicago that gained international attention with the 2015 release of a video showing a white police officer’s fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald.
Brown will also be in charge of leading the city’s fight against crime and gun violence, which has declined since a historic surge after the McDonald shooting but remains entrenched in many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Shaped by personal tragedies
Brown joined the Dallas force in 1983 as a patrol officer and stepped down in 2016 after six years as chief.
The sniper incident was not the first time Brown suffered tragedy. His former police partner was fatally shot in the line of duty in 1988. A drug dealer killed his younger brother in 1991.
In 2010, Brown’s son fatally shot a cop in a Dallas suburb before police shot and killed him. The son had bipolar disorder and, according to news reports, had PCP in his system when he died.
“When you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, and your life’s tapestry is marked by triumphs and tragedies, you cannot help but feel a sense of connection to another lived experience, and the authenticity will shine through,” Lightfoot said at the news conference.
Brown said he has learned that triumph and tragedy often coincide.
“As dark as some of those times have been, it’s also in those times that I have seen incredible resilience, faith and the infinite goodness in people,” he said. “I am confident these same characteristics are here in Chicago.”
Positive reviews but concerns too
Dallas residents praised Brown’s communication skills, policy expertise, and passion for community policing.
“Chicago has made the right selection,” said Terrance Hopkins, a Dallas police officer and president of the city’s Black Police Association.
Hopkins called Brown a “stickler” who held officers accountable.
“I’ve seen Chief Brown fire more officers than you can shake a stick at,” he said.
Yet Brown, according to Hopkins, maintained a good relationship with most of his subordinates because he had come up through the department’s ranks.
Hopkins said he hopes rank-and-file Chicago officers give Brown “a chance to learn the city, to actually build the police department and direct it the right way.”
John Fullinwider of the Dallas-based organization Mothers Against Police Brutality lauded Brown’s community policing approach and his availability to the public.
“He would meet with anyone,” Fullinwider said. “He’d go to a community meeting or he’d set up a meeting with you or anyone that asked.”
Fullinwider said Brown took steps to reform the department, including putting in a deescalation policy and curbing dangerous foot pursuits.
But Brown, according to Fullinwider, too often failed to act when officers violated those policies.
Fullinwider said he believed Brown had good intentions to improve the Dallas department but could not overcome opposition from “recalcitrant” officers.
“In spite of being a reform-minded chief, after almost seven years, Dallas was not a reformed department at all,” Fullinwider said. “He was not able to control his officers. He couldn’t rein them in on the use of deadly force.”
After retiring as Dallas chief, Brown authored a 2017 memoir about his police career and worked as a consultant on security and policing technology.
Next steps in his hire
The other finalists for the Chicago job were Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman and Chicago Deputy Chief Ernest Cato.
Police Board President Ghian Foreman said the board got “no push” from Lightfoot about candidates and said she did not interfere in the nomination process.
Brown’s appointment goes to the City Council’s Public Safety committee and, if approved there, to the full council for a confirmation vote.
Lightfoot said she hopes that vote will take place this month.