Chicago mayor must weigh insider versus outsider to reform police

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel participates in a panel discussion on Reducing Violence and Strengthening Policy and Community Trust at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (Reuters)

By Fiona Ortiz

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who faces calls for his resignation over police misconduct, must weigh whether an insider or an outsider is the best choice for police chief to reform a long-troubled department that is under federal investigation.

Emanuel told reporters he will quickly interview three finalists for Chicago police supervisor, two experienced police chiefs from outside the city and a veteran of 36 years on the local force. The names were sent to him on Thursday by a board of prominent citizens.

Emanuel fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy last year when protests erupted over video footage of a white police officer shooting 16 times and killing a black 17-year-old who was moving away from police carrying small knife.

There is a lot on the line for the mayor, who was re-elected last year but whose political future could be harmed by the uproar over policing.

The top prosecutor in the city, Anita Alvarez, was dumped this week by voters unhappy with her year-long delay in bringing charges against the officer in the shooting caught on video. And the Justice Department is investigating whether Chicago police use lethal force too much.

"An outsider might have the courage to take on the Fraternal Order of Police," said pastor and activist Ira Acree, referring to the police union, which critics say has shielded officers from discipline.

"But an insider would have more of a capacity to bridge the gap between the community and police, would know Chicago's unique gang culture," Acree said.

Local media are reporting that the favorite of the three finalists is Cedric Alexander, who has led police departments in Dekalb County, Georgia, and Rochester, New York. Alexander, who has a doctorate in psychology, has advised President Barack Obama on policing and appears on CNN to analyze law enforcement.

But the black caucus of aldermen - which put pressure on Emanuel to fire McCarthy - is backing Eugene Williams, a 36-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department who has been everything from beat officer to district commander, and was a finalist for top cop in the past, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The dark horse in the race may be Anne Kirkpatrick, the only white contender and a retired police chief of Spokane, Washington.

While the mayor weighs his options, murders have soared. Chicago has had 114 murders so far this year, double the number in the same period last year.

Emanuel, who has a reputation for closely managing the police, brought McCarthy to Chicago from New Jersey. Although a progressive police leader, he did not change how the department handles allegations of misconduct.

Chicago, a racially diverse city of 2.7 million people with high levels of gun violence, needs someone with big-city experience, said Dean Angelo, head of the FOP, which represents rank-and-file officers.

"I don't know that small agencies experience can meet the requirement," said Angelo, who stressed that the FOP is not endorsing any candidate.