Larry Snelling Confirmed by Chicago City Council as New Top Cop

Video: The WTTW News Spotlight Politics team discusses Larry Snelling’s confirmation and more of the day’s top stories. (Produced by Alexandra Silets)

For the first time in 195 days, the Chicago Police Department has a permanent superintendent. 

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The Chicago City Council voted 48-0 Wednesday to make Larry Snelling, who rose through the ranks of the beleaguered department during a nearly 30-year career, the 64th superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.

Snelling said changes were coming to the department and vowed to prioritize officer wellness while rebuilding trust with the community and strengthening investigations to “bring justice victims and survivors of violent crimes who we often forget about.”

“Through these changes, I promise to hear and listen to everyone across the city,” Snelling said. “To make our city stronger we need to do it together. No more time for adversarial relationships. We can agree to disagree, but we all need to come to the table.”

Mayor Brandon Johnson picked Snelling to implement Johnson’s pledge to fight the surge of crime and violence in Chicago 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 said Snelling would lead CPD with love.

“In fact, it is the greatest power that we possess on this Earth,” Johnson said after Snelling's confirmation was greeted with five standing ovations from the City Council. “There is no greater love than someone who was willing to lay down their life. So let this be a mark and a testament to who we are: There is nothing soft about the city of Chicago.”

The special City Council meeting on Wednesday had more in common with a coronation than a confirmation hearing, with alderpeople from across the political spectrum rising to praise Snelling’s deep South Side roots, decades of CPD service and reputation as an officer with integrity.

Johnson said during the campaign he wanted to pick the department’s next leader from its ranks, and said Snelling was the clear choice. For a decade, police brass called on Snelling to explain to judges and juries when — and how — Chicago Police officers were permitted to use force against Chicagoans during high-profile trials that accused officers of misconduct.

Johnson hailed Snelling, a native of Englewood, as a “son of Chicago” who is deeply rooted in Chicago's values.

Snelling, 54, is the fourth person to lead the Chicago Police Department in less than nine months. The mammoth to-do list confronting Snelling will be complicated by the significant turmoil that has engulfed the department in recent months.

Former Supt. David Brown resigned after former Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her bid for reelection, ensuring that Brown would follow her out of the door after a tumultuous three-year tenure. He was replaced by former interim Supt. Eric Carter, who served just two months and stepped down the day Johnson took office.

Carter was replaced by now former interim Supt. Fred Waller, who led the department through the summer months that typically see an increase in violent crime. However, homicides dropped 8% and the number of shooting victims declined 15% from Jan. 1 and Sept. 1, 2023, as compared with the same period in 2022, according to the Chicago Police Department.

As Snelling takes over the 12,346-member department, which has 11,726 sworn members, he faces an immediate public safety challenge: a spate of armed robberies on the North Side, where violent crime is unusual and frequently attracts outsized attention from the news media.

Snelling vowed to put a stop to those robberies, promising a new approach that uses technology to halt the crimes.

Snelling is the first Chicago Police Department leader to be recommended by the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, the police oversight board formed in July 2021 and charged with restoring trust in the department beset by decades of scandals, misconduct and brutality. He earns $260,472 annually, records show.

Johnson and Snelling said public safety was not the sole responsibility of the police department.

“As we’ve all said repeatedly, if you think that the only way we can get to a better, stronger, safer Chicago is with policing alone, you are attempting to take us in the wrong direction,” Johnson said, echoing his campaign slogan. “This city will not tolerate it. We won’t accept it.”

Snelling has 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 expand community policing.

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.

Snelling promised to hold officers who are guilty of misconduct accountable, while vowing to treat all officers “fairly.” That echoes complaints made by leaders of Chicago's largest police union that efforts to reform CPD have targeted officers working to keep Chicago safe. 

However, reform advocates contend the real issue is that it is incredibly hard to hold officers accountable because of protections established in the union's contract and state law.

The city is in full compliance with just 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 is now the third top cop charged with implementing that agreement signed in 2019.

The team overseeing court-ordered reforms of the Chicago Police Department warned city officials in June that the team has “significant concerns” about the department’s commitment to constitutional policing.

Snelling told WTTW News he had “very productive conversations” with that team and was committed to moving things forward “a lot quicker.”

“I would like to see significant increase between this year and next year at this time” in compliance, Snelling said. “We will be working hard to move forward.”

Snelling led CPD’s counterterrorism bureau since September and served as deputy chief of Area 2, which includes the Far South Side of Chicago, as well as the commander of the Englewood (7th) Police District and worked as a sergeant at CPD’s training facility.

Snelling was suspended twice in his nearly three decades on the force, according to a database compiled by the Invisible Institute. In 1994, a use-of-force complaint resulted in a two-day suspension for Snelling, according to the database. In 1995, he was suspended for five days in connection with a complaint that alleged his conduct while off-duty violated department rules that prohibit officers from associating with those convicted of felony offenses.

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.

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

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