Chicago’s History-Making Top Brass

David O. Brown, Eric Carter, and Barbara West

In January 2020, all three of the top officers in the Chicago (IL) Police Department were African American for the first time in its 185-year history. Superintendent David O. Brown was joined at the top of the department by First Deputy Superintendent Eric Carter, a 28-year veteran in law enforcement; and Deputy Superintendent Barbara West, whose appointment makes her the highest-ranking African American woman in the department’s history. Deputy Superintendent Barbara West retired at the end of 2020, but her appointment marked a long-awaited milestone for the Windy City.

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Superintendent Brown was appointed to the top position of the Chicago Police Department in April of 2020 and brought to the city 30 years of experience and expertise in reform, public safety, and community policing. Before coming to the Windy City, Brown served as chief of the Dallas (TX) Police Department, where his leadership saw a historic reduction in crime and its lowest murder rate in 80 years. It was during his tenure as chief when the worst police shooting in the nation’s history occurred in Dallas. The decisions made by Brown during that tragic event in July 2016 saved not only the lives of many officers, but civilians as well.

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Superintendent Brown’s First Deputy Eric Carter has been with the Chicago Police Department for nearly 30 years. Immediately before his appointment as the department’s second-in-command, he was the chief of the Bureau of Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations—the Chicago Police Department’s newest specialized unit. He continues to be an active spokesperson for the CPD, and a familiar face for the members of the community he serves.

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Before her retirement in October 2020, Deputy Superintendent Barbara West spent 25 years on the force in Chicago. During her role as the city’s third top officer, she led the department’s Office of Constitutional Policing and Reforms, which is responsible for the implementation of reforms ordered by a 2019 consent decree from the U.S. Department of Justice. West made a point not only to fulfill the consent decree, but also to implement a structure for lasting change and success. In June 2020, West assisted in the formation of a committee to reevaluate Chicago’s use of force policies in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. West’s tenure as Deputy Superintendent may have only lasted 10 months, but her legacy was certainly left on the city of Chicago. She left office with parting words of encouragement saying, “Always be a fighter for the things you find to be right, true and good. And have integrity in everything you do.” (Source: WTTW)
In January 2020, Superintendent Brown told the Chicago Sun Times that, “As African American leaders, we have this clear understanding of the issues, with race the prominent discussion nationwide … We all have pushed through likely racial barriers in our coming up through the ranks. We all likely have been looked at differently because of the color of our skin, so we have more than just this reading of the issues that we face. We have an innate understanding.” Despite Deputy Superintendent West’s retirement, today’s top brass is continuing her work and approaching issues head-on in Chicago, a city that has long struggled with equitable representation of its communities in city government. The importance of community policing and reducing crime in the city remains of importance to leadership, who are finally showing Chicago’s citizens that local government can truly work for them.

Black Trailblazers in Blue is created in partnership between the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Black Police Association to celebrate the triumphs of African American leaders in Law Enforcement.