Johnson Taps Fred Waller, Former High-Ranking CPD Leader, to Serve as Interim Top Cop

Video: The WTTW News Spotlight Politics team discusses the “ComEd Four” guilty verdicts and Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson’s selection for an interim top cop. (Produced by Alexandra Silets)

Mayor elect-Brandon Johnson Wednesday tapped Fred Waller, who left the Chicago Police Department in July 2020 after serving as its third-highest ranking official, to lead the beleaguered department on an interim basis.

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Waller will replace interim Supt. Eric Carter, who will step down on May 15 after just two months as Chicago’s top cop and on the same day that Johnson takes office. Carter replaced former Supt. David Brown, who quit after Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her bid for reelection. Johnson had promised to fire Brown.

Johnson said Waller’s appointment represents a new chapter for public safety in Chicago, adding he is “caring, collaborative and competent.”

Waller, 61, the third person to lead the Chicago Police Department in less than six months, will immediately be charged with leading the department during the Memorial Day weekend, which typically sees an increase in crime and violence. That task will be complicated by the significant turmoil engulfing the department.

“From patrol officer to third in command, he has the experience and integrity to lead the Chicago Police Department during this difficult time,” Johnson said, adding that Waller will join him in “reimagining public safety while upholding the traditional values of serving families and of course our communities.”

Waller will not be a candidate to serve as the department’s permanent superintendent, Johnson said.

Waller left the department after 34 years shortly after the protests and unrest triggered by the police murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. A probe by the city’s inspector general found the department’s leaders botched nearly every aspect of its response, undermining efforts to rebuild the community’s trust in the department.

Waller said he was honored to lead the department at a crucial moment in Chicago’s history and would do so as an “old school” police officer who would lead with “integrity, professionalism and respect.”

“We must rebuild trust and we must rebuild morale in the department,” said Waller said. “We can and will do both.”

Before his departure, Waller was suspended for 28 days for saying “grope me, don’t rape me,” while complaining about decisions to move officers from police districts to specialized units in a meeting that included federal monitor Maggie Hickey, charged by a federal judge with overseeing the court-ordered reforms.

“It was the wrong choice of words,” Waller said. “It was an attempt to emphasize how much resources were being taken from patrol, and it was just inappropriate the way I phrased it.”

After promising to be “100% transparent,” Waller said the remark was “taken out of context.”

Despite Waller’s 28-day suspension, Waller said he did not miss a single day of pay or work, since he used banked vacation time to serve the penalty.

“I never stopped working,” Waller said. “If you would say not having a vacation is not being punished, then I wasn’t punished.

As chief of patrol, Waller backed a promotion for an officer with numerous misconduct complaints and close ties to two cops jailed on federal corruption charges, according to WBEZ.

Waller supported the promotion of Alvin Jones to sergeant in 2012. In 2022, Jones resigned after a report from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability detailed allegations that he engaged in extortion more than 16 years ago as part a crew of corrupt cops that included disgraced former Sgt. Ronald Watts.

Since 2017, 212 convictions tied to Watts have been overturned, according to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

Asked about Waller’s connections to Jones and Watts, Johnson said he had “extensive” conversations with Waller about his time on the force, and was confident he was the right person to lead the department.

The city’s Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability is conducting a search for the next leader of the Chicago Police Department. The panel is charged with recommending three candidates to the mayor by July 14.

The mayor will then have 30 days to choose one or ask for another slate of options before asking the Chicago City Council to confirm his choice.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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