CHICAGO — A key city panel voted unanimously on Friday to approve Larry Snelling as the next police superintendent, setting up a final confirmation vote by the full City Council this week.
The City Council’s Committee on Police and Fire, helmed by Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), questioned and praised Snelling Friday afternoon, with many alderpeople expressing gratitude the city was on the verge of appointing a longtime department veteran to lead the force.
Currently the department’s counterterrorism chief, Snelling has been with Chicago Police for three decades. He previously served as commander of the Englewood (7th) District and was a sergeant at the police academy, among several roles.
As one of the department’s experts on use of force, Snelling redesigned the department’s use of force policy and has testified in federal cases on the issue, according to his department bio and the Tribune.
Announcing Snelling as his choice last month, Mayor Brandon Johnson called him a “son of Englewood,” saying he was “fully confident” in his ability to be a change agent while keeping the trust of the force’s rank-and-file.
Snelling played up his upbringing in his opening statement Friday, telling alderpeople how he gains inspiration from a framed police academy t-shirt and a photo of himself as a kid in Englewood that he keeps in his office.
“This photo is a reminder of where I’ve come and where my heart is planted. It’s the foundation of why I do this job and connects me to those who are growing up in similar circumstances. That’s why the privilege of being a public servant is something I’ve never taken lightly, and I never will,” he said.
The veteran was Johnson’s pick from a crowded field of candidates that was narrowed to three by the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, the civilian-led commission created under an ordinance passed in the aftermath of social justice protests in 2020.
The other finalists for the role were Angel Novalez, also a longtime Chicago officer, and Shon Barnes of the Madison Police Department in Wisconsin.
All 50 alderpeople will vote on Snelling’s appointment during a special City Council meeting scheduled for Wednesday.
Snelling’s Priorities As Superindendent
At Friday’s hearing, Snelling fielded questions about his potential support for expanding “co-responder” models on certain 911 calls — a strategy designed to limit reliance on police — restoring beat integrity across the city’s police districts and promoting mental health for officers throughout the department, among many other issues.
Chicago is currently operating a pilot program in several neighborhoods that deploys behavioral health workers, paramedics, officers and other experts to respond to certain 911 calls for mental health emergencies or non-fatal opioid overdoses.
Progressive alderpeople also have worked to advance an ordinance that would establish a citywide mental health emergency response program that does not involve police at all.
Snelling said he was “all for” shifting away from armed officers responding to non-emergency calls, and it would free officers up to focus on violent crimes.
“If we’re asking an officer to respond to a person who’s in crisis, who’s suffering from a mental health issue, and there’s no crime there, then we’re actually asking that officer to get to the scene and basically diagnose this individual and then try to figure out how to deal with this person,” Snelling said.
“If we have people who are trained to deal with non-violent, non-criminal crisis situations, it takes our officers away from having to try to figure that out without the complete training to do it. And it also frees up our officers to to focus on more violent crimes or crime patterns.”
Prompted by a question from Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), Snelling said he would also explore redrawing police district and beat lines to better distribute resources but didn’t promise any specific changes.
“I know that some districts are much larger than other districts, and depending on the number of officers in that district, it could take them a pretty good time to get from one end of the district to another end of the district, to handle calls,” Snelling said. “So that’s something that we can look at but we would actually have to be really, really strategic about getting that done. But, it’s worth a look.”
The comments come as some West Town neighbors, with the backing of Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), are pushing for the city to reopen the shuttered 13th police district station.
Some neighborhood residents have long been concerned they don’t receive adequate police attention because the 12th district — which covers parts of the neighborhood — is headquartered several miles south near Pilsen.
Villegas is gathering signatures for a ballot referendum next year to call for the reopening of the district or to launch a satellite 12th district. Snelling was not asked about that specific effort.
Asked Friday how the police department is responding to an ongoing surge in armed robberies, Snelling said they would continue to lean on technology like license plate readers and cameras. He said the city also needed to come up with better diversion programs for kids who are repeatedly committing crimes.
Numerous teenagers have been arrested over the past month for committing armed robberies in Logan Square, West Town and elsewhere.
“Officers can tell you that a lot of these juveniles are repeat offenders, also. We’re not going to incarcerate a 12-year-old or 13-year-old. So diversion programs, other programs that we can get these young people in to divert them away from these violent acts, that’s one [solution],” he said.
Snelling did not address an indirect question about ShotSpotter, the controversial gunshot detection technology used across the city. Johnson promised during his campaign to end the city’s contract with the company that produces it, but has since been noncommittal.
Snelling spoke passionately about the importance of protecting officer mental health. Multiple officers died of suicide last year as police described working weeks without days off and increasing mental strain on the job.
Snelling said it was critical for the public not to see cops as simply “robots.” He also pushed back against broad criticisms of how officers conducted themselves during civil unrest in summer 2020.
“I saw what they dealt with. I saw the names that they were called. The yelling, the screaming. I saw the 16 hours they worked, dehydrated, hungry, sleep deprived. They kept their cools. They responded the way the city needed them to respond to stop the city as a whole from burning down,” he said. “They were taunted, and then they went home, and they got up and came back to work the next day to do it all over again.”
Snelling was raised on the South Side and attended Englewood High School before studying adult education at DePaul University, according to Johnson’s office.
He joined the department in 1992, working as a patrol officer in Englewood before being promoted to sergeant in the Morgan Park (22nd) District. He returned to the 7th district as watch operations lieutenant before being promoted to commander, and later, deputy chief of Area 2, Johnson’s office said.
Snelling is also known for his experience at the police training academy. He taught Physical Skills and Operations sections for recruit training and redesigned the department’s use of force training model around national best practices, according to Johnson’s office.
Snelling was promoted to chief of the department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism in 2022.
Alderpeople complimented Snelling throughout Friday’s hearing for his responsiveness and experience, sometimes effusively.
“I am thrilled. I am going to vote for you, if I could vote for you twice, I would,” Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) said.
“I know you have a difficult job to be all things to all people, and we lay all of the challenges of the city at your feet and say solve them,” Ervin added. “I think that members of this body want you to be successful because your success is our success and the city’s success.”
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: