Larry Snelling, selected to lead CPD, take questions from public

Larry Snelling, the presumed next superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, fielded questions on a wide range of public safety issues facing the city and the force he hopes to lead Thursday during the first of five public forums he’ll take part in before he assumes leadership.

For more than an hour, Snelling listened and offered responses — with varying degrees of specificity — to questions and comments that addressed resources for crime victims, community anti-violence efforts, asylum-seeking migrants sleeping in police stations, the CPD’s murder clearance rate and accountability for officers who commit misconduct, among other topics.

Above all, Snelling said, a collaborative spirit between city residents and police officers is necessary to make Chicago a safer city.

“We have to be partners in this,” Snelling said. “These officers have to be a part of the community, they have to embrace the community, and I’m sure they would love it if the community embraced them the same way. This is the only way we get to the bottom of this.”

At the forum, held at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, Snelling was asked how he will maintain his independence amid the inevitable tidal wave of criticism that comes with a job as high-profile and public-facing as CPD superintendent.

“Great leaders have no fear of criticism, and it’s going to come,” Snelling told the several dozen who gathered to hear him. “When you know you’re making the right decision, it doesn’t matter how much criticism comes your way. As long as I can go home and sleep at night and know that I made the right decision, that’s the decision I’m going to make. I’ll make the best decisions for everyone involved. Not everyone’s going to like it. You’re not going to make 100% of the people happy because not everybody is going to agree with it.”

Referencing his own upbringing in Englewood, Snelling called for a clear-eyed examination of the factors that often lead the city’s youth down a path to violence.

“We’ve forgotten about our victims and we’ve forgotten about our children,” Snelling said. “Our children have become victims, and not just victims of crime, [but] victims of being ignored. And until we step up and we start looking out for our children in these communities, they grow up to become the next statistic.”

He urged the city not to “ignore” its children.

“Because when you have a 14-, 15-, 16-year-old shooter, you can’t blame the 14-, 15-, 16-year-old,” Snelling said. “We have to start looking back to see where this child was failed. This goes beyond us.”

Mayor Brandon Johnson announced last month that he had selected Snelling, the CPD chief of counterterrorism, to become the next permanent superintendent of the department. Snelling will require approval from the full City Council before he takes the department’s reins.

The last permanent CPD superintendent was David Brown, the former chief of police in Dallas who was hired by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot in April 2020. Brown quit after Lightfoot failed to make the runoff election earlier this year, and former CPD chief of patrol Fred Waller returned to lead the department on an interim basis.

Though the 54-year-old Snelling joined the CPD in 1992, it was not until recently that the longtime training academy instructor saw his stock rise among the department’s command staff, thanks in part to the CPD’s much-maligned “merit promotions” system.

A lifelong South Sider, Snelling spent more than half his career at the training academy, where he was certified to teach classes on use-of-force, the use of firearms and report writing. According to his resume, Snelling is certified to teach courses on active shooter scenarios, the use of Tasers, firearms and batons, as well as personal fitness. Aside from teaching police procedures, he’s also a certified CrossFit instructor.

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As a result of his expertise, Snelling has been called to testify as an expert witness in more than two dozen civil and criminal cases involving police officers.

Among those cases was the 2018 criminal trial of three CPD officers who were accused of conspiring to cover up the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald four years earlier. Those three officers were ultimately acquitted in a bench trial.

Snelling also testified in the police board proceedings of four officers who faced administrative charges also stemming from the 2014 McDonald shooting on the Southwest Side. All four were eventually fired.

Snelling himself was the subject of two sustained misconduct allegations in the mid-1990s which resulted in a two-day and five-day suspensions, respectively.

Snelling was chosen over two other finalists, CPD Chief of Constitutional Policing and Reform Angel Novalez, and Shon Barnes, the chief of police in Madison, Wisconsin.

Anthony Driver Jr., the president of the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, the body that submitted the three finalists to Johnson last month, issued a statement as Johnson made his choice.

“Chief Snelling’s remarkable career and long tenure with the Chicago Police Department make him an exceptional choice for the role of Superintendent,” Driver said. “His proven leadership as chief of the bureau that focuses on criminal networks and narcotics, his dedication to cultivating robust community relations, and his fervent commitment to elevating professional standards within the Department set him apart as a proven leader.”