CPD revives controversial ‘merit promotions’ system

WGN Investigates

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown

CHICAGO — Less than two years after it was discontinued, the Chicago Police Department has moved to revive its controversial “merit promotions” system, WGN Investigates has learned.

Thirty officers were selected to attend training to become CPD lieutenants starting July 19. Nine of those were selected through the merit system, which allows for officers to climb the ranks after receiving a nomination from a high-ranking member of the CPD’s command staff.

A list of the new lieutenants, obtained by WGN Investigates, shows that the nine who were meritoriously promoted were nominated by CPD First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter and eight other former command staff members who have since retired.

“Diversity is more important now in law enforcement than it’s ever been,” CPD Supt. David Brown said Monday. “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.”

The merit promotions system was introduced in the 1990s as a way to increase the number of Black and Latino officers in supervisor positions within the CPD. The system allowed for officers to move up the ranks even if their promotional exam scores did not place them at the top of the list.

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.”

Charlie Beck, who served as interim CPD superintendent after Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired Eddie Johnson, effectively abolished the merit system in late 2019. After Brown was named permanent superintendent a few months later, he told the Chicago Sun-Times that the merit promotions system would not come back under his leadership.

Brown at the time added that he was “looking for another way to create diversity in a way that is much more appreciated here than the merit system was.”

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