While searching for CPD chief, Lightfoot advisors were “all concerned” about David Brown’s ability to handle summer violence, hacked email says

As city leaders searched for a new police superintendent in March 2020, top advisors to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and possibly the mayor herself, were concerned that the man who eventually won the job might not be able to handle the Chicago’s summer violence surge, according to an email that was recently leaked in a massive hack of City Hall communications.

“We are all concerned” about Brown’s ability to hit the ground running, wrote Susan Lee, who was Lightfoot’s deputy mayor for public safety at the time. Lee exited from the administration last autumn. Lee made the statement while creating a set of potential scenarios for candidates to address during their interviews with Lightfoot.

“Summer is in there for [Aurora Police Chief Kristen] Ziman and Brown because we are all concerned about their ability to jump into this situation,” Lee wrote in an email to the mayor’s chief of staff, Maurice Classen.

The scenario Lee recommended for Brown and Ziman was:

“What is your strategy to address violence during the summer [of] 2020? What information will you seek out to develop the strategy and how will you track progress? To support your crime fighting strategy, what operational decisions will you make at the departmental level to ensure that adequate resources are deployed in the right way? What non-law enforcement resources will you mobilize as part of your strategy?”

In an email exchange with Lightfoot and Classen the next day, Lee said another scenario regarding CPD’s federal consent decree “would be good for Brown and Ziman as neither have that experience.”

Sharply higher violence and slow progress on meeting consent decree deadlines have been on-going issues since Brown took office one month later. In fact, July 2020 was the worst for murders since 1992 and fourth-worst in Chicago since modern CPD record-keeping began in 1957. For all of 2020, homicides increased by 53% and shootings surged 51% compared to 2019, according to crime stat site HeyJackass.com.

Two months ago, Lightfoot demoted the deputy chief of CPD’s Training and Support Group to lieutenant after the department came up short in meeting some consent decree deadlines. Daniel Godsel subsequently submitted resignation paperwork after a 29-year career, according to a source.

Despite the violence, which continues to rise this year, and consent decree challenges, Lightfoot last month insisted that she is satisfied with Brown’s performance.

“David Brown is the superintendent of this police department today, tomorrow, in the future,” Lightfoot said after rumors again surfaced that Brown was on the way out.

The leaked “Scenarios” emails also show that Lightfoot’s team was concerned about another candidate’s political chops. Lee proposed a scenario for CPD Dep. Chief Ernest Cato “because [of] what I have observed in terms of Cato’s engagement with Aldermen. Not stellar.”

But there were lighter moments during Lightfoot’s search for a new top cop.

At one point, the mayor received a lengthy email from a suburban blogger who urged Lightfoot not to select Ziman, Aurora’s chief, for the job. Melissa Johnson of OpenLineBlog concluded her message to Lightfoot with a photo that showed Ziman sipping a glass of red wine at a restaurant.

Kristen Ziman | “Lucy Parsons” emails

The pic “will give you a glimpse of just some of the problems that are associated with her,” Johnson wrote. “We got the photo from Kristen herself. It’s not a joke, it’s real.”

Lightfoot forwarded Johnson’s email to Classen and Lee, jokingly calling its content, “vicious stuff.”

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com