CHICAGO — The head of the Chicago Police Department was fired Tuesday amid widespread criticism over how authorities responded to the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer last year.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said he formally asked Garry F. McCarthy, the Chicago police superintendent, for his resignation on Tuesday morning, a week after video footage of the shooting was released and the officer was charged with murder.
“He has become an issue, rather than dealing with the issue, and a distraction,” Emanuel said. He added that while he is loyal to McCarthy, whom he praised for his leadership of the department, the needs of the city are more important.
Even as the embattled Emanuel dismissed his police superintendent and made other vows of increased police accountability, announcing a task force to review police oversight, another Illinois official suggested that federal intervention was needed for the Chicago police. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wrote a letter Tuesday asking the Justice Department to investigate possible civil rights violations by the Chicago Police Department.
Anger has erupted in Chicago since authorities released footage of Jason Van Dyke, a city police officer, shooting Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old, last year. In the video, Van Dyke is seen firing a volley of shots at McDonald, many of them after the teenager had already fallen to the ground.
Emanuel said he began talking to McCarthy on Sunday, after several days of heated protests, about “the undeniable fact that the public trust in the leadership of the department has been shaken and eroded.”
The end of McCarthy’s time atop the Chicago force marks a abrupt shift for a law enforcement officer who became nationally known as he worked in three of the country’s biggest police departments.
When Emanuel announced McCarthy’s appointment in May 2011, he praised him as someone who proved “reducing crime and working closely with the community are not conflicting goals.”
Before McCarthy, 56, came to Chicago, he served as the police director in Newark and was an officer and deputy commissioner of the New York Police Department. In New York, he oversaw the CompStat system, which is used to monitor crime data and was adopted by law enforcement agencies across the country. He spent a quarter of a century with the NYPD before the department said he retired in 2006 as deputy commissioner for operations and headed to Newark.
During his time in Newark, the number of homicides declined, according to FBI data. The same month his appointment in Chicago was announced, the Justice Department launched an investigation into the Newark police force, looking at reports of how officers used force and complaints of excessive force that occurred before and after McCarthy took over the Chicago police force. The Justice Department said last year it had found “patterns of misconduct” in Newark, releasing a report that did not mention McCarthy, and reached an agreement with the city to have its force overseen by an independent monitor.
When McCarthy arrived in Chicago to lead the country’s second-biggest local law enforcement agency, he was seen as an outsider who did not understand the nuances of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. He also stepped into a culture tainted by a legacy of police abuse going back decades. The city was struggling to confront that legacy through settlements with victims and an effort to rebuild trust on the streets — trust that, for many, was irrevocably broken. Gun violence also mounted: In his first year in office, homicides jumped above 500, creating a crisis that screamed across national headlines.
McCarthy also dealt with anger directed at the city’s top officials resulting from Emanuel’s decision in 2013 to close dozens of public schools as well as an ongoing foreclosure crisis that worsened neighborhoods that were already marginalized from booming development downtown.
Despite those challenges, police reform experts say McCarthy was a progressive in implementing preventive policing programs. Among them was the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy, a partnership funded by the MacArthur Foundation and led by several academic institutions, including the University of Chicago, that created a database to monitor gang activity to the granular level in order to predict and prevent violence.
Andrew Papachristos, a sociologist at Yale University who works with the Chicago Police Department in developing the database, said McCarthy was “a very forward-thinking cop” compared to his predecessors. He said McCarthy also implemented violence-prevention reform programs in Chicago that highlighted rebuilding trust and legitimacy before they took hold on a national level.
According to police data, civilian complaints against police have fallen 38 percent between 2011 and 2015.
“He was at the forefront of police leaders in this country,” Papachristos said. “From the research side of things, he opened the door and was one of the first people who said, ‘Let’s try this.’”
McCarthy had also been very outspoken about tightening gun laws, calling for harsher penalties for people who have violated gun laws and saying that illegal gun possession in Chicago was directly tied to the number of homicides.
“There’s very few police chiefs in the country that have his institutional knowledge of crime-fighting,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit that guides departments on policies and practices.
While Emanuel said Tuesday he had “a lot of confidence in the work” McCarthy has done in Chicago, he said the move was necessary to rebuild public trust and confidence in the police force.
City leaders and demonstrators had called on Emanuel to remove McCarthy, arguing that new leadership is needed to reassure a troubled public. Last week, a dozen members of the City Council’s black caucus gathered to reiterate these calls for new leadership.