Mar 16, 2023 - News

Outgoing top cop David Brown's rocky legacy in Chicago

Photo of police officers lined up

Chicago Police superintendent David Brown (C) poses for pictures with other officers at a Chicago Police Department promotion and graduation ceremony in 2021. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Chicago Police superintendent David Brown steps down today after three years on the job.

Why it matters: Mayor Lori Lightfoot's top cop faced a bumpy tenure, highlighted by surging violence, internal turmoil and delays in police reforms.

Flashback: Brown came to Chicago via Dallas, stepping in to lead the department at the beginning of the pandemic and months before the 2020 summer of unrest.

  • He famously set a goal to bring Chicago homicides under 300 per year, a stat not seen since 1957.

What happened: Instead, Brown led the police through pandemic-era spikes in violence, including 802 homicides in 2021, the worst in Chicago in over a quarter-century.

What they're saying: Lightfoot commended Brown's accomplishments for the department and the city in a statement early this month, citing a "record number of illegal gun recoveries for two consecutive years" and "leading a double-digit reduction in violent crime in 2022."

  • She also praised Brown for "promoting more women to the senior exempt ranks than ever before in the history of the department."

Yes, but: Brown's legacy also includes a report from the city's inspector general criticizing his leadership during the civil unrest that followed George Floyd's murder.

  • The report said the CPD was "outflanked, under-equipped and unprepared."
  • Lightfoot and Brown's order to raise downtown bridges to help corral protesters was, according to the report, an unpopular move among officers.

The intrigue: Shortly after summer 2020, Brown reorganized the department to reassign officers from gang violence units, familiar with certain neighborhoods and crime zones, and shifting them to patrol duty elsewhere.

  • This was done partly in response to the dwindling number of officers, but police supervisors reportedly were frustrated with the decision.

What's more: Brown was vocal about committing to reforms outlined in the 2019 court-ordered consent decree, but caused controversy by firing the head of reforms Robert Boik after he questioned Brown on deployment strategy.

Reality check: So far in 2023, homicides and other violent crimes, including carjackings, are down from last year.

What we're watching: Lightfoot is moving fast to replace Brown, but the next mayor will have the final say. Both candidates have signaled they want to promote from within the department.

Thought bubble: Chicago violence stats are always hard to gauge. Whether the numbers are up or down, Chicagoans go by feel. And right now, for many, the city feels unsafe. That just might be David Brown's legacy.


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