Chicago, IL – Interim Chicago Police Superintendent Charlie Beck’s first significant move since he began his supervision of the police force was to announce that he had suspended the merit-based promotion system that officers have long claimed was based on relationships rather than performance.
The merit-based system instituted more than 20 years ago under former Chicago Mayor Richard Daly was created as an avenue to promote more minority officers into the department leadership, even if they didn’t test well, according to WLS.
But the rank and file has long complained that the merit system had been abused and promotions were based on cronyism rather than performance.
Superintendent Beck sent an email to members of the Chicago police force telling them about the change, WLS reported.
“While I was pleased to see that so many of you have registered to take the Sergeant Promotional Examination on Saturday, I continue to hear that members have been dissatisfied and discouraged by the merit promotion system,” the newly-installed interim superintendent wrote.
“In consultation with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham, I decided that I will not make any merit promotions during my tenure as Interim Superintendent,” he continued.
Superintendent Beck also said that he would recommend that whomever Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot hired to be the permanent superintendent should do the same thing and instead hold regular promotion exams every two years, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) criticized the Chicago Police Department’s merit-based promotion system in their 2017 report that led to the police department’s consent decree.
DoJ said that the police department had not been transparent about how they made decisions about whom to promote, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Former Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson did not make moves to change the process when he was at the head of the department despite the fact he admitted the process was unfair.
Johnson said the number of minority supervisors in the Chicago PD was “woefully inadequate” when he became top cop in 2016, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“It’s not where we want it to be, but it’s certainly a lot better than when I became superintendent,” Johnson said during a Nov. 4 hearing at City Hall. “So we’ll just keep chipping at that rock until we get it to where we want it to be.”
The mayor appeared to be in lockstep with the new superintendent’s decision to suspend the merit-based promotions, WLS reported.
“I think that we have heard from officers on an anecdotal basis, but also in officer surveys, that they don’t have confidence in a merit promotion process,” Lightfoot said.
She said she recognized that diversity was important but said there needed to be changes in the system.
“So it’s just gone sideways,” the mayor said. “We need to get back to its essence and make sure that we are promoting people who really deserve to be in leadership in within the department.”
Pushback came from the chairman of the city council’s Public Safety Committee, WLS reported.
“If we want to continue to have minorities represented – and that’s Hispanic particularly and African-Americans – represented on our police department, as supervisors in a capacity that is reflective of the city, you cannot get rid of merit,” Alderman Chris Taliaferro said.
But the president of the Chicago Police Sergeants Association said his members were really happy about Superintendent Beck’s decision, WLS reported.
“The system became a gift system,” union boss Paul Bilotta said. “It was who you knew in the city, who your friends were, who your clout was, and it’s a horrible thing to say but that’s what happened. It wasn’t used the way it was intended to be used.”