Newark’s top cop, Garry McCarthy, emerges as favorite for Weis replacement spot
BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND FRANK MAIN Staff Reporters April 29, 2011 10:26AM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Garry McCarthy — the director of the Newark, N.J., police department — emerged as the odds-on favorite to become Chicago’s next police superintendent on Friday.
The Chicago Police Board is recommending that Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel pick McCarthy or one of two Chicago Police insiders with less experience to replace police Supt. Jody Weis, whose contract expired in March.
The other finalists are Chicago Police chief of patrol Eugene Williams and Debra Kirby, a deputy superintendent overseeing the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Professional Standards. But only McCarthy was on Emanuel’s separate list of top contenders.
Contacted Friday, McCarthy said, “I am really pleased to be considered. It is a great honor.”
Asked why he believes he was chosen, he said, “It’s not any one idea. I’ve had a 30-year police career. I’ve shown I could run the Newark Police Department in some pretty tough circumstances. My experience speaks for itself.”
If he becomes Emanuel’s choice, McCarthy said he would go through the Chicago Police Academy and get certified as an Illinois law-enforcement officer before ever putting on the uniform.
That was a sore point with Weis, who wore the uniform, but never earned it in the view of the rank and file.
“I know I don’t have the right to wear the CPD uniform,” said McCarthy, who wore a uniform in New York but holds a civilian position in Newark.
The Sun-Times reported earlier this week that Emanuel’s three favorites were McCarthy, national drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske and Chicago’s deputy chief of detectives Al Wysinger.
Sources said the Police Board did its “own thing” during a four-hour meeting Thursday night.
Whether or not they intended to do so, the nine-member board made Emanuel’s job easier because the contrast between McCarthy’s breadth of big city, beat cop experience and that of Williams and Kirby is even more clear.
“He’s head-and-shoulders over the other two,” said a source close to the parallel search process being conducted by the mayor-elect.
Barring a last-minute glitch in final background checks, another source close to the transition team predicted Emanuel would choose McCarthy sometime next week.
“Not only can he hit the ground running by developing a summer crime plan. If, God forbid, another terrorist attack happened here, who would you want in charge? Garry McCarthy was the guy in charge on the day after Sept. 11. He’s already done it,” the source said.
Williams is described as a “solid” choice. But he is also known for his strong ties to West Side ministers, a possible red flag for any new mayor.
Kirby is an attorney with less experience in the department’s various divisions. She was also in charge of the Internal Affairs Division during the cops-as-robbers scandal in the now-disbanded Special Operations Section.
In 2008, Weis appointed Kirby to serve as his chief legal counsel, the same day that an internal 2005 memo surfaced written to Kirby by an IAD officer. In it, the officer expressed concern that the IAD investigation of SOS was not aggressive enough, noting a long list of allegations against SOS officers that were not sustained.
At the time, Weis defended Kirby, saying her office was already pursuing rogue cops “through a variety of surveillance techniques and undercover operations” when the memo was written.
In an unusual move, the FBI declared Kirby was not a target of the SOS investigation. No higher-ups have been charged.
In an interview, Chicago Police Board President Demetrius Carney said Kirby’s role in the SOS scandal “was not an issue for us. We reached out to our federal sources. She was well-respected by federal law enforcement. Our read on that is she acted properly.”
Likewise, Williams’ ties to West Side ministers was a non-issue, Carney said, adding, “He interviewed very well. He was a great commander in the 15th District. He’s held numerous high-level positions in narcotics and gangs. He’s well-respected. I don’t think he’s beholden to anybody.”
Jim Maurer, who retired from the Chicago Police Department as its highly respected chief of patrol, said he hopes Emanuel chooses a superintendent from within the department to boost morale. He said he did not know enough about McCarthy to comment on him. But he said Kirby and Williams would both do a “great job.”
“Debbie was a very, very good detective and detective supervisor,” Maurer said. “Gene is one of the nicest guys you could meet and he is very competent.”
Carney went out of his way to praise McCarthy as a “cop’s cop” who walked a beat and commanded three separate New York precincts before becoming chief architect of the Big Apple’s crime control strategy.
“My gut tells me that he understands best practices across the country. He takes those best practices, brings them back and comes up with the best strategy for the city that he’s in. That’s what impressed us,” Carney said.
“Beat patrol is the backbone of the department. He’s walked in those shoes. He understands beat patrol. He’s a cop’s cop. We, as a board, felt he could hit the ground running.”
Carney was asked if he believes McCarthy is a different kind of outsider who could overcome the morale problems that plagued Weis’ three-year tenure.
“Because of his crime-fighting strategy, we as a board felt he would be well received by the rank and file. He is an outsider. But this time, that outsider is not from the FBI. This is an outsider who understands policing and understands the plight of beat patrol. He was a highly-respected district commander,” he said.
As the New York Police Department’s former operations chief, McCarthy has an impressive background as a street cop, Emanuel’s No. 1 criterion.
He was the driving force behind the CompStat program credited with dramatically reducing New York’s homicide rate.
Under the program, police commanders are called before a review board on a monthly basis and held accountable for crime spikes.
McCarthy was a surprise finalist in the 2003 search that culminated in Mayor Daley’s appointment of Phil Cline as police superintendent. At the time, the Police Board stirred controversy by failing to include an African-American in its list of three finalists. But the board was willing to take the heat because it was “absolutely dazzled” by McCarthy.
“We knew the ticket lacked diversity, but we also felt strongly that if Garry McCarthy could bring his experience to Chicago, it would help address our homicide rate, our drug and gang problems,” Carney said at the time.
“He interviewed so well. His knowledge of the city was just unbelievable. He knew the top brass here. He knew and understood our CAPS program. If we could combine his CompStat with CAPS, what a strong city we’d have. If you’re trying to lose weight, you could go on a diet, exercise or both. We felt if we had both, it would affect our quality of life.”
Earlier this week, Emanuel said he was eagerly awaiting the Police Board finalists because “I have to respect a process that wasn’t respected” three years ago when Daley went around the board and chose Weis, a career FBI agent.
The mayor-elect also tipped his hand toward McCarthy when he talked about the need for the new superintendent to have the experience to get a running start.
“I get sworn in May 16. What do we all know about crime? It spikes in the summer. I don’t want to waste a single day,” he said.