September 26, 2007


Just as the Chicago Bears are on the verge of a quarterback controversy, Mayor Rich Daley is in the throes of a police superintendent controversy. He wants to replace Dana Starks, the mercurial interim superintendent, in the worst way, but he can't find the right replacement.

In choosing a Chicago Police Department superintendent, rank matters. Family history matters. Political connections matter. And, most importantly, being an "insider" matters. The so-called culture of the department decrees that a non-Chicagoan cannot earn the trust of rank-and-file police officers.

However, in the fruitless search to replace the departed Phil Cline, the selection criteria have changed as the political, bureaucratic and racial environment has deteriorated -- both inside and outside the department.

Cline resigned on April 2 amid headlines of barroom brawls involving off-duty cops in which one beat a female bartender and six beat four businessmen. In the Special Operations Section, an elite unit that seizes guns and drugs in high-crime areas, four officers were accused of home invasion, drug dealing and kidnapping.

Starks, who is black and who was Cline's first deputy, has been anything but a caretaker. Some say he is out of control. He removed the head of Special Operations Section and replaced him with Walter Green, who is black, and he demoted the head of the Organized Crime Division and replaced him with deputy superintendent Eugene Williams, who also is black. He also imposed a gag order on all subordinates, requiring that press contact be funneled through his office. Starks was embarrassed after revelations that the FBI refused him security clearance to access classified information regarding terrorist threats -- which means that he doesn't know what his underlings know.

Already, there's a drumbeat to keep Starks in the job in the black press. The word is that Starks has "street respect." He's also a blunt, polarizing figure who does not work well with the largely white police brass -- who want him out.

Externally, Al Sharpton and his National Action Network lumbered into Chicago, bleating that the police are "anti-us," meaning anti-black. The black president of the Police Board, Demetrius Carney, said that Chicago is at a "crisis point" of police misconduct.

During August, three young black males were fatally shot by police, and one older black male died after being shocked with an electronic control device. There have been 20 police shootings, with 10 fatalities, this year. The Reverend Paul Jakes, who ran for mayor in 2003, proclaimed that Chicago has "trigger happy" cops who "think black life is cheap."

According news reports, Daley does not subscribe to the media-fed mantra that the Police Department is riddled with corruption and that misconduct and brutality are rampant. "They are not out of control," Daley said.

The nine-member Police Board received 40 applications to replace Cline, 13 from non-Chicagoans. They chose 10 semifinalists and then three finalists: deputy superintendent Hiram Grau, the chief of the Bureau of Investigative Services, who is Hispanic, deputy superintendent Charles Williams, the chief of patrol, who is black, and Westchester County, N.Y., police chief Thomas Belfiore, who is white. According to police sources, each was asked how they would combat "police corruption." But Daley disputes the notion of such corruption, and he reportedly was particularly incensed by their responses. He rejected all three.

With the Police Executive Research Forum replacing David Gomez and Associates as the new recruiter, Daley will try again. According to sources, Daley is pondering the feasibility of naming Chicago Transit Authority president Ron Huberman, his former chief of staff and a onetime police officer, as the next superintendent. Once the CTA's fiscal situation has stabilized itself, Huberman, age 37, will be ready for another promotion from his mentor. If Daley picks City Hall "insider" Huberman as the city's top cop, he'll be the first "outsider" -- meaning someone who is not a rank-and-file cop -- to run the department since O.W. Wilson took over in 1960.

Remember this: Huberman had no transportation background when he took over the CTA. So why not the Police Department? His appointment would infuriate the police establishment.

It will be months before the board submits a new list. This much is certain: Those on the initial semifinal and final lists won't surface again. "The mayor shot them down once," said one police union source. "They won't be on the next list."

Among those rejected were assistant deputy superintendents Eugene Williams, Anne Egan, Matt Tobias and Deb Kirby, head of the Internal Affairs Division, as well as Maria Maher, chief of detectives, and Frank Liman, since ousted as chief of the Organized Crime Division by Starks. Starks did not apply for the job. So who's left?

Historically, a career officer has risen to superintendent. Since 1900, only two "outsiders" have gotten the job, LeRoy Stewart, the Chicago postmaster, in 1909, and University of California criminologist O.W. Wilson in 1960, following the Summerdale police scandal. Wilson served until 1967.

Here's a chronology:

1967: James Conlisk Jr., the son of a police officer (who was a driver during the 1950s for Mayor Richard J. Daley), was named superintendent. Conlisk was the deputy superintendent in charge of the Bureau of Inspectional Services, and he previously headed the Traffic Department.

1974: James Rochford, the first deputy superintendent and the son of a police officer, replaced Conlisk. Rochford served under Mayors Daley and Mike Bilandic.

1978: Jim O'Grady, who was chief of detectives, replaced Rochford and had the bad fortune to be associated with Bilandic. After Bilandic lost to Jane Byrne, O'Grady was canned.

1979: Byrne went through two interim appointees, Samuel Nolan and Joe DiLeonardi, before settling on Richard Brzeczek as her superintendent. Brzeczek had been the chief of the department's field operations and the Youth Division; he was the youngest top cop ever.

1983: Harold Washington became Chicago's first black mayor, and he appointed Fred Rice, then chief of patrol, as the city's second black superintendent. The first was Nolan, who served for 3 months in 1979. Rice's first deputy superintendent was John Jemilo, who was white.

1987: Throughout his first term, rumors swirled that Washington wanted a more "politically active" -- meaning more attuned to the black community -- superintendent, and deputy superintendent Rudy Nimocks fit the bill. But Washington, before his death, named LeRoy Martin, the chief of patrol, to replace Rice. Martin chose Charles Ford, who was white, as his first deputy.

1992: Daley became mayor in 1989 and kept Martin in the job until 1992. The three contenders to replace him were Matt Rodriguez, a deputy superintendent and the chief of the Bureau of Technical Services, Gerald Cooper, the legal counsel to the superintendent, and Ray Risley, the deputy chief of investigations for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office who had worked for Daley when he held the post. Daley picked the "insider," Rodriguez, who was the city's first Hispanic top cop. Rodriguez named Jack Townsend, who was once Richard J. Daley's bodyguard, as first deputy.

1998: To replace Rodriguez, Daley had three choices: Risley, then chief of the Organized Crime Division, chief of detectives Terry Hilliard and deputy superintendent Charles Ramsey, the chief of the administrative services bureau. In a surprise, Daley chose Hilliard, who was black, over Ramsey. Hilliard made John Thomas, and later Phil Cline, his first deputy.

2003: Deputy Superintendent John Richardson, who was black, was supposed to be Hilliard's heir apparent, but he withdrew from the screening process. That left Cline, New York Police Department operating chief Gerry McCarthy and Winnetka police chief Joe DeLopez as the contenders. The mayor's pick was obvious: "insider" Cline, who became the first white top cop in 20 years. Cline made Starks his first deputy but stripped him of his power to run day-to-day operations and to make personnel and manpower decisions, rendering him a figurehead. When Starks appeared before a City Council committee, Alderman Dorothy Tillman complained that he had been "castrated."

Daley's recent decision to sever the Office of Professional Standards from the Police Department infuriated many officers, as well as the police unions. Daley hired Ilana Rosenzweig of the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review to be the new OPS head. The office employs 85, and all investigators were department employees. That will change.

The police union contract expired on June 30, and the OPS severance violates a provision of the old contract.

The bottom line: Picking an African American as superintendent might be a way to defuse Sharpton. Picking an "outsider" might be a way to engender the appearance of "reform." But Daley, throughout his career, has picked "loyal" people for tough jobs, regardless of the public or media reaction. That's why Huberman is the odds-on favorite to be the next police superintendent