CPD’s former No. 3 official emerges as front-runner for interim top cop — and maybe an audition for permanent job
Fred Waller, who rose through the ranks of the Chicago Police Department to chief of patrol, chief of operations and then third in command, emerged Monday as the front-runner to serve as interim superintendent and, perhaps, audition for the permanent job.
Waller spent 34 years at the department before joining a parade of top brass to leave during the turbulent tenure of now-departed Supt. David Brown.
Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson is searching for an interim superintendent to hold down the fort until he can choose a permanent one from among three finalists to be forwarded to him by the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability by July 14.
In August 2020, Waller, then 58, followed First Deputy Anthony Riccio in retirement and joined Riccio as a top executive at Monterrey Security.
His tenure as interim superintendent could be a trial run for the permanent job, especially if Chicago makes it through the summer without a surge of violent crime or a repeat of the mayhem last month that gave Chicago a black eye around the world.
Johnson appears determined to choose an insider as Brown’s permanent replacement to help restore morale among the rank-and-file and stop the exodus of officers that has left Chicago with 1,700 fewer officers than when Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office.
One source described Waller’s appointment as a done deal after Waller was summoned to Johnson’s transition office Monday to finalize the terms of his employment. A formal announcement could come later this week.
Waller did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Jason Lee, a senior adviser to Johnson’s transition team, would only say that Waller is “in the mix” for interim superintendent and that his track record, leadership qualities and support among a demoralized rank-and-file made him an attractive candidate.
Former chief of detectives Brendan Deenihan was “not able to serve” as interim superintendent, having taken a job as chief of security at Google, but agreed to serve on Johnson’s transition team and advise the new mayor on public safety issues, according to Lee.
“Waller’s had a lot of experience. He worked through the ranks and worked with the rank-and-file as head of patrol,” Lee told the Sun-Times. “He has a good sense of what’s going on and where folks are at and how to get the most out of folks who are working on the front lines. He’s been involved in a number of different experiences that are going to be relevant and are relevant to keeping the city safe, particularly during the summer months.
“Crowd-control issues. Summer spikes in violence in high-crime neighborhoods he’s worked in. He’s got a lot of good experience,” Lee said.
The back-to-back departures of Waller and Riccio were a blow to the Chicago Police Department.
The retirements came just as CPD was working to implement a structural reorganization amid surging gun violence on the South and West Sides, civil unrest and attacks upon police officers.
“I never want to be seen as someone who walks away from a challenge, so that’s the hard part for me in this environment that we’re in right now,” Waller said then.
Waller’s son is a Chicago police officer. Even after rising to the No. 3 job, Waller said he still felt like a beat cop and worked hard to show rank-and-file that they have his support.
“I’ve always been on the front lines because at heart I’m a street cop,” Waller said.
One of the proudest moments in his career came in December 2018. Officers Conrad Gary and Eduardo Marmolejo were both struck and killed by a commuter train on the Far South Side while the two were chasing a man suspected of firing a gun nearby.
That night, Waller was tasked with notifying both officers’ families of the deaths. When he returned to the train tracks, Waller saw his fellow command staff members working to collect the two officers’ remains. He felt compelled to join them.
“There’s no way I’m not going to be part of recovering their remains,” he said. “[It was] just one of the saddest and proudest days, just to see everyone in those white uniforms recovering their remains proudly.”
One week after Waller announced his retirement, the Sun-Times reported Waller had been suspended for 28 days for using the word “rape” during a meeting at police headquarters to express his feelings about officers being moved out of police districts to other units.
“Grope me, don’t rape me,” Waller said at the meeting, police records show.
He made the remark before a group that included federal monitor Maggie Hickey and Christina Anderson, the police official in charge of court-ordered reforms. Anderson filed an internal affairs complaint against Waller over the comment.
At the time, Waller was in charge of officers in Chicago’s 22 police districts. It was rare for someone in the highest reaches of the department to be suspended.
Waller told an investigator he later apologized to Anderson, Hickey and others who were at the meeting, the records show.
In an interview, Waller had said the suspension didn’t have anything to do with his retirement, which he said was based on changes in insurance and “the grind” of the job.
Waller said the punishment was “somewhat harsh” but understood “the message they wanted to send.”
Contributing: Frank Main