Chicago Police Chief Larry Snelling, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s pick to lead the Chicago Police Department, faced his first public test Thursday at a hearing in front of the interim commission overseeing the Chicago Police Department.
Snelling vowed to rebuild trust between Chicagoans and the Police Department, which is struggling to reduce crime and implement court-ordered reforms designed to ensure officers no longer routinely violate the constitutional rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans.
Snelling mostly faced softball questions from members of the commission, allowing him an opportunity to promise to reduce crime with better use of technology and to vow to hold officers accountable for misconduct while acting with integrity.
Snelling also promised to work collaboratively with the district councils that now oversee the city’s 22 police districts in response to questions posed by members.
Snelling faced more pointed questions from members of the public, including questions about whether the city spent too much on CPD, which has a $1.9 billion annual budget.
Snelling once again promised 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, Johnson’s central campaign promise.
Snelling again 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.
The hearing before the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability was the first step in the process to confirm Snelling as the 64th superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. That process will take longer than expected, after a meeting of the City Council’s Police and Fire Committee scheduled for Friday to consider his appointment was canceled.
That makes it unlikely the full City Council could confirm Snelling as scheduled on Wednesday.
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 was one of three finalists picked by the commission in July and lauded as a “generational leader” capable of “grappling with tarnished legacy of the past while charting a path for the future.”
If confirmed as expected by the Chicago City Council, Snelling will be the fourth person to lead the Chicago Police Department in less than six months, capping a period of intense turmoil for the department. The mayor has to hope that his pick will fare better than the department’s last three leaders, who became political albatrosses for their bosses.
CPD has been without a City Council-confirmed leader since March 15, when former Chicago Police Supt. David Brown quit after former Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her bid for reelection. Brown was replaced by former interim Supt. Eric Carter, who stepped down May 15, the same day Johnson took office. Johnson tapped interim Supt. Fred Waller, who resigned from the department in August 2020 after serving as the department’s third-ranking official, to replace Carter.
Waller, who earns $267,720 annually as police superintendent, did not apply for the permanent position.
The challenges facing the next leader of the 12,336-member Chicago Police Department are immense, and any honeymoon is likely to be short lived.
Not only will Snelling face immediate pressure to reduce crime and violence across the city, he will also face prompt calls to swiftly 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.
Snelling also promised to craft a stable schedule for officers, ensure that response times are the same on the North Side as they are on the West Side and the South Side and reorient the department to ensure real community policing.
A native of Englewood, Snelling was also featured in a video in March 2021 designed to encourage Chicagoans to apply to be an officer. Snelling said he decided to be an officer after looking up to the officer assigned to his high school who became a father figure and role model to him and other teens.