Mayor Brandon Johnson introduced his pick to lead the Chicago Police Department on Monday as a “son of Englewood” and the clear choice to guide the department as it struggles to reduce crime and implement court-ordered reforms designed to ensure officers no longer routinely violate the constitutional rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans.
“Today a new chapter begins on this incredible journey to build a stronger and safer Chicago,” Johnson said during a City Hall news conference Monday. “Snelling commands the highest respect of his brothers and sisters in the department and I’m fully confident in his ability to unify and strengthen these critical public servants, confident that he can boost their morale.”
Snelling, 54, said his rapid rise from sergeant in 2019 to superintendent in 2023 should serve as an inspiration for all Chicagoans.
“This is an extremely important day for the city,” Snelling said. “For people who grew up like I did — a resident of Englewood and a student of the Chicago Public Schools — I want you to know the possibilities are limitless.”
It is now up to the Chicago City Council to confirm Snelling’s nomination, and make him the 64th superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. The first step in that process will be a public hearing in front of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, which has yet to be scheduled.
Three of the more conservative members of the City Council — Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward), Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) and Ald. Peter Chico (10th Ward) — flanked Johnson during Monday’s announcement, indicating that any threat to a smooth confirmation process would not come from that side of the political spectrum.
Snelling told reporters he was fully on board with Johnson’s pledge to fight the surge of crime and violence that began during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and has yet to fully recede with a holistic approach that focuses on the root causes of crime.
“The police department and our community members are not two separate institutions because they can’t be,” Snelling said. “I want to be clear about my belief in the mayor’s vision in the full force of government. We cannot do this alone as a police department.”
While Snelling repeatedly praised Johnson for his willingness to listen to his advice and counsel and collaborate on efforts to keep Chicagoans safe, the mayor and his pick for top cop have yet to come to an agreement about the fate of the city’s gunshot detection system.
While Johnson vowed to terminate the city’s contract with SoundThinking, formerly known as ShotSpotter, Snelling defended the system during a contentious City Council hearing last year. An audit by the Chicago inspector general found the system rarely altered officers to an actual shooting, and progressive members of the City Council believe it contributes to the overpolicing of Black and Latino communities.
Johnson promised only to consult with Snelling on the matter.
Snelling cautiously endorsed the heart of the proposal that has become known as “Treatment Not Trauma,” which would expand efforts to respond to 911 calls for help not with police officers but with social workers and counselors.
Since a pilot program began in September 2021, four teams operating on the North Side, West Side, downtown and the Southwest Side have responded to more than 1,000 calls for help with no arrests or uses of force, officials said.
Three of those teams do not include a police officer, including the team that launched in March downtown and in the South Loop with a Chicago Fire Department paramedic and a drug recovery specialist.
Johnson has promised to expand that effort, but Snelling urged caution before responding to a 911 call for help without an armed law enforcement officer — but acknowledged that such a program could help ease the burden on the department, which has been stretched thin by a staffing crunch.
Snelling vowed to make improving officer training and wellness his highest priority, followed by a focus on crime victims and improving relations with the community.
“I’m up for the challenge,” Snelling said. ”One of the things that I will tell you is that what I believe that we’ve forgotten everywhere are the victims of crime, the trauma that those victims deal with. We cannot forget about the victims.”
Snelling repeatedly vowed to help officers struggling with the toll their job can take on their mental and physical health, telling reporters that he knew firsthand what it was like to have scheduled days off canceled.
“For our officers who risked their lives every day to protect our residents, I know what you sacrifice on a daily basis,” Snelling said. “I know the sacrifices that your family makes when you go out to the street to keep the city safe.”
Despite promises to improve relations between the police department and Chicagoans, Snelling’s remarks did not focus on the challenges he is sure to face as he attempts to implement the court order requiring the Chicago Police Department to change the way it trains, supervises and disciplines officers.
The city is in full compliance with approximately 5% of the 4-year-old court order, known as a consent decree, according to the most recent report from the team overseeing court-ordered reforms of the Chicago Police Department.
The consent decree was issued after a 2017 federal investigation found officers routinely violated the constitutional rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans. That probe was triggered by the outrage over the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer.
That probe found Chicago police officers graduated from the department’s five-month academy “unprepared to police lawfully and effectively.”
Snelling has led CPD’s counterterrorism bureau since September, after rising steadily through the department’s ranks. Promoted to lieutenant in 2019, Snelling was named commander in the CPD’s 7th District just months later. After joining the department in 1992, Snelling spent much of his career as an instructor in the CPD training academy.
Snelling did not directly answer a question from WTTW News about whether the U.S. Department of Justice’s concerns about CPD’s training academy should give reform advocates pause about his commitment to reforming the department.
Instead, Snelling vowed to ensure officers get quality training that prepares them to protect and serve the people of Chicago.
“Officers want good training, and when they get it, they want more of it,” Snelling said, adding that he would not just seek to comply with the consent decree for the sake of compliance.
“In order to change this department and produce the best possible officers that we can put out there, our training has to be robust and it has to work for our officers,” Snelling said.
Snelling was one of three finalists picked by the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability in July and lauded as a “generational leader” capable of “grappling with tarnished legacy of the past while charting a path for the future.”
The other two finalists to be Chicago’s next top cop were Angel Novalez, a 22-year CPD veteran who heads the CPD’s office of constitutional policing and Shon Barnes, the police chief in Madison, Wisconsin.
Johnson thanked both men Monday, calling them “incredible officers.”
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, the largest union representing Chicago officers, said in a statement that it “look(s) forward to working with Superintendent-Elect Larry Snelling,” just as the union worked with Waller.