CHICAGO — More than 20% of the Chicago Police Department’s newest class of sergeants received their promotions, in large part, on the recommendations of former police supervisors who were demoted or left the department.
Fifty officers were promoted to sergeant as of Tuesday, according to a staffing memo obtained and verified by WGN Investigates. Of those, 15 were promoted via the CPD’s controversial merit promotions system, which allows for officers to climb the ranks with the blessing of a police department supervisor — even if the officer’s promotional test scores aren’t among the highest.
Those 15 merit recipients were recommended by 14 supervisors, though only four of those supervisors — First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter among them — are still with the department.
Rodney Blisset was the commander of Area South detectives until January 2020 when he was demoted to captain. Blisset has since retired from the CPD, but he’s currently suing the department, claiming that his demotion was tied to his refusal to lie about the circumstances of another allegedly improper demotion within the detective division. A Black woman who worked in Area South received a merit promotion to sergeant at his recommendation.
Ronald Kimble was the commander of the CPD’s Narcotics Division until he was demoted to captain in May 2020 after raising the ire of Mayor Lori Lightfoot during her weekly conference call with CPD leadership, the Chicago Sun-Times reported last year. A Black female officer who was under his command in Narcotics received a merit promotion to sergeant.
Anthony Escamilla served as commander of the CPD’s Grand Central District on the Northwest Side until Interim CPD Supt. Charlie Beck demoted him to captain in December 2019. Escamilla — who himself received at least two merit promotions during his career with the CPD, according to city records — came under fire from the Office of the Inspector General after he assigned on-duty officers in the district to babysit his son, who has special needs.
The Chicago Tribune reported that the OIG recommended that Escamilla be fired for lying to investigators. A Black male officer who was assigned to the Grand Central District received a merit promotion to sergeant at Escamilla’s recommendation.
Escamilla, according to his LinkedIn profile, is now the Chief of Investigations for the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.
Darren Doss was commander of the CPD’s Special Functions unit until October 2019. He drew scrutiny during that year’s Lollapalooza music festival when he allowed concert-goers into the observation area, which was supposed to be off-limits except for law enforcement officials.
Doss recommended two of the newly minted sergeants via the merit system, one of whom was previously honored for his bravery during the 2018 shooting at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center that claimed the lives of a doctor, CPD officer and a pharmacist.
Another promotion came at the recommendation of Dion Boyd, who was the Deputy Chief of the CPD’s Criminal Networks Group until he died by suicide in his office in the CPD’s Homan Square facility last year. A male Latino officer who was previously assigned to Narcotics was promoted to sergeant at Boyd’s recommendation.
The merit system was started in the mid-1990s as a way to ensure more female officers and officers of color were promoted to management positions within the department that has long been staffed mainly by white men. The system — which Lightfoot previously described as “illegitimate” — was phased out under Interim CPD Supt. Charlie Beck in late 2019, but Supt. David Brown opted to bring it back earlier this year.
A report by the United States Department of Justice, prompted by the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014, found that CPD officers often complained about the opaque nature of the process. Officers often told federal investigators that merit promotions were viewed as “a reward for cronyism, rather than a recognition of excellence.”
A CPD spokesperson did not respond to questions about the latest group of merit recipients, but Brown said of the system last July:
“Diversity is more important now in law enforcement than it’s ever been… If we’re going to build communities’ trust, it’s going to be through diversity. That includes Black, brown and women being not only at the rank-and-file level, but at every level of policing, to be reflective of the community.”