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The [Wednesday] Papers

The three finalists for police chief are in. Let's take a look.

Retired Dallas police chief David Brown.

Brown did a relatively decent job reforming the Dallas PD and improving relations between the police force and the community.

But the Sun-Times' assessment is several levels of wrongheaded.

Brown got mostly positive reviews from the Dallas media for his time as chief.

But late in his six-year tenure, violent crime rose in Dallas after several years of large declines. The number of murders in Dallas jumped in 2015 and 2016, along with overall crime.

Brown also came under criticism from police unions that claimed he promoted friends and punished critics. He responded that they didn't like his holding cops accountable.

1. "Mostly positive reviews" is an incredibly vague marker that also tells us nothing about the quality of the Dallas media and their evaluation skills.

2. Attributing a two-year jump in crime to the police chief is facile.

3. Criticism from a police union is most likely a good thing, given how reactionary they tend to be. My guess is that Brown's response was correct, but it's really up to the reporter to settle the claim instead of leaving readers befuddled.

The Sun-Times also reports that "Brown is a seasoned leader who ran a big-city department that also dealt with gun violence problems but wasn't under a civil rights consent decree like Chicago. His weakness: he doesn't know Chicago and could be devoured, as other outsiders have, by the city's unique brand of politics."

You know what? Insiders have also been "devoured" by our "unique brand of politics."

I'd also like to know which outsiders they are referring to.

Ernest Cato.

How good does Cato sound?

The 54-year-old Cato grew up in West Garfield Park and became a Chicago police officer in 1990. Cato served as a tactical officer on the South Side, then became a supervisor of investigations in the city's inspector general's office and a detective investigating sex crimes and homicides.

Cato was promoted to sergeant in 2011 and lieutenant in 2015, assigned to the Austin District on the West Side. He was known for trying to improve the relationship between cops and residents in the Far West Side neighborhood.

In 2017, former police Supt. Eddie Johnson appointed Cato as the Austin District's commander. Rank-and-file cops say Cato was a "by the book" commander and seen as one of the "anointed ones" under Johnson.

But anti-violence advocates say Cato would be seen in the wee hours patrolling Austin's problem areas, and they talk about how he set up a job fair on a drug corner and brought in big companies like Amazon to do job interviews.

Wait. So Cato on his own "brought in big companies like Amazon" to recruit here from an Austin drug corner? Did his bosses know? Did the mayor know? I'm not saying it didn't happen; I'm saying I need to know more.

At a community meeting hosted by Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), Cato emphasized community policing, saying he hoped more block clubs would form in Austin.

This strikes me as ordinary.

Cato was promoted to deputy chief of patrol in October.

Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church, praised Cato's tenure as a police commander, telling the Austin Weekly News: "We're a long way from where we used to be."

This strikes me as good.


Also, as I wrote in February:

"[T]he Chicago chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness just named Cato its CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) Officer of the Year. Just landing in my inbox:

It is our privilege to honor Deputy Chief Cato III at Light the Darkness for his enduring commitment to healing communities touched by violence and trauma with innovation, bravery, and partnership.

In his 29 years of service to Chicago, Deputy Chief Cato III's road to impact includes working with community-based organizations, instituting ground-breaking programs, and implementing new technologies to respond to urgent mental health needs in Chicago.

Cato is called a "rising star" by both the Sun-Times and the Tribune. The question is if his time has arrived or he's not quite ready yet to be the top cop.

Cato, as noted, would be jumping over a few others in the organizational chart. You wonder if Brown could come in as the veteran steady hand while Cato continues to be groomed for the top spot one day. But if Cato is ready - and I hope I don't regret saying this - he seems like an intriguing choice.


P.S.: Cato must think he's ready - he applied for the job. Audacious? Or perhaps someone urged him to?

Kristen Ziman.

I'm sorry, but I just can't see the police chief of Aurora taking such a big step up. If she's really as talented as advertised, though, maybe she could be hired into the CPD in a different role.

Also . . .

In 2017, the [Aurora] Beacon-News ran an editorial saying, "If Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman's view of the world gained currency, America would be a scary place for those who cherish the democratic ideals of a free press and the people's right to know whether their government is following the laws of the land."

The newspaper took her to task for going on Facebook and Twitter to "attack a Beacon-News reporter who had the audacity to seek information after a man wound up dead after a police stop and chase." Police reports said the man had committed suicide with a gun.

While that passage alone doesn't leave readers with a lot of information, the editorial (which the Sun-Times does not link to) does. It says, in part:

Aurora police reported that Anthony Martell, 18, shot himself after first shooting at an officer and trying to flee into a nearby house. The news reporter then had the nerve to file a Freedom of Information Act request to view the dashcam video of the mysterious traffic stop that preceded the youth's death. She also had the gumption to ask whether the department had any history with the young man or the driver of the car in which he was riding.

The police chief of Aurora was outraged that a reporter in a free country that has seen too many questionable police stops and shootings would want to verify what the police were saying and not saying about the tragic event. The department, in denying the FOIA request, was not the first to invent a host of bogus reasons for doing so. The reporter appealed to the Illinois attorney general, which is her right and duty, really, in standing up for the public's right to know.

The AG's office, state government's top legal authority, issued a non-binding opinion saying that Aurora was wrong to deny the public's right to know. The city could have continued to fight the release of the dashcam video; it could also have released it without fanfare.

Instead, its top law enforcement officer went on Facebook and Twitter with a lengthy rant attacking the Beacon-News and its reporter for standing up for the people's right to know and trying to spin the narrative to justify her fondness for secrecy. Even in the new world of some politicians bullying through social media, it was a bizarre, alarming attack with the clear purpose of trying to intimidate and cast a chilling effect on journalists asking questions, on doing their jobs.

Ziman's Facebook post is no longer available. I didn't take the time this morning to search her Twitter feed because we've learned enough. Such as:

The chief went on to blast the reporter's journalistic practices: seeking information too often, wasting her department's time. She complained that sometimes the reporter does not even write a story after filing a FOIA request. We realize that you are somewhat new to this business of being a journalism critic, chief, but we must clue you in to one of our newsgathering secrets: You can't tell if information is worth writing a story about until you see the information. Crazy, right? We treasure the input, chief, but you don't get to decide what is a news story.

The chief also went to great lengths to point out that various police and Kane County investigations determined that her officer did just about nothing wrong, that he's a great guy and that we were wrong to ask questions. The theme throughout is that we need to trust that the department will tell us what we need to know.

This was never about knee-jerk reaction or bias assuming the police officer did anything wrong; it was a quest to understand and inform the public about what happened before a young man died. When the authorities refuse to answer basic questions, that's when suspicion can arise.

No matter how much the Aurora chief attempts to camouflage her disdain for democratic checks and balances with self-serving sanctimony, it's obvious she gave up the video because she knew it was a fight she could not win. She cannot win bullying, intimidating or otherwise trying to silence the public's right to know. She ought to stop embarrassing herself, her department and her city.

Perhaps I'm rushing to judgement, but she seems to have disqualified herself.


The Tribune, which owns the Beacon-News, only had this to say today in its less-facile-but-still-not-penetrating mini-bios of the finalists:

"She took to social media in 2017 to lament open records requests from a reporter at the Aurora Beacon-News. Several news outlets and journalism organizations chastised her stance at the time."

It was a lot more than that, as you've now seen.

Out of the running: Sean Malinowski.

"Early on, Malinowski appeared to be a front-runner and a favorite of Beck's after a polished video that 'blew people away' on the Police Board," the Sun-Times says.

"But sources said he ultimately fell out of favor; he has been viewed as having campaigned for the job in a way some at City Hall see as heavy-handed."

This is at least the second time the Sun-Times has made this claim, and I don't necessarily doubt it, but it's at least the second time the Sun-Times has made this claim without explaining just what he did that was perceived as heavy-handed.


Malinowski is also a white male data geek whose high-tech approach to policing may be springing holes.


"Over the years, the Police Board process has been a sham. Nationwide searches were conducted while the mayor conducted his or her own back-channel search. The mayor's pick, communicated to the board, would magically appear on the list of three finalists," the Sun-Times (correctly) notes.

I don't remember them - or any local media (besides me) saying it so starkly at the time, though, and challenging the two mayors that we're really talking about here: Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel.

For example, in March 2016 I wrote:

Weis, like new interim-ish Supt. Eddie Wilson (Johnson; I must've been watching Eddie & the Cruisers when I wrote this), was chosen in what seemed to me at the time - and still does - as an extra-legal maneuver.

Maddeningly, the media largely didn't care. One had to read to the 35th paragraph of the Tribune's article (out of 42) to get to this:

"By city ordinance, the Chicago Police Board is responsible for vetting applicants for the police superintendent's job and submitting the names of three finalists. The mayor then selects one or rejects all three and asks for more candidates.

"But Daley acknowledged Thursday that as the board did its work this time, he conducted a search of his own.

"'I interviewed many people,' he said. 'I went out and reached [out] and talked to people all over this country . . . I looked at every resume that was submitted to the Police Board and even submitted to me.'"

In 2016, of course, Rahm selected Johnson as police chief even though he hadn't applied for the job. The city council then retroactively changed the ordinance to make it all legal-like - just for this one time.


It was four years ago almost to the day!


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Posted on April 1, 2020

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