He’s awaiting a kidney transplant while struggling to control a homicide rate that has President Donald Trump taking pot shots.
His fiancée, a police lieutenant, has embarrassed him twice and is the subject of two internal investigations.
And his fired predecessor, Garry McCarthy, has branded his appointment as “illegitimate.”
It’s been a roller-coaster first year for Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson since he was plucked out of relative obscurity. He never applied for his $260,044 job before he was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was on the hot seat for his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
“He walked into probably one of the worst circumstances any superintendent has walked into, maybe in the history of the department,” said Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, who led the nationwide search that Emanuel had ignored.
“He walked into escalating crime. He walked into the failed stop-and-frisk policy that alienated officers, alienated people in communities and yielded very little in the way of positives. . . . He had the whole question of legitimacy” after Emanuel persuaded the City Council to change the rules and do away with the charade of a second nationwide search.
Lightfoot’s board didn’t recommend Johnson, but she’s turned into a “big fan” of the reluctant superintendent.
She credited him with using technology to tamp down murders and shootings in Chicago’s two most-violent districts and for convincing Emanuel to stop relying on runaway overtime — at a cost of $143 million last year — and instead embark on a two-year hiring surge.
“He’s a very nice and charming person, but don’t let that fool you,” she said.
“The superintendent understands that, if he is viewed as someone who is beholden to the 5th floor [mayor’s office], he will have zero legitimacy within the department. In the course of the year, he has worked very hard to make sure that everybody knows he is his own man and that he is the person who is in charge.”
The Englewood and Harrison police districts have seen sharp decreases in shootings and other crimes this year.
Lightfoot said the superintendent’s challenge is to confront crime spikes in the city’s other 20 districts without diluting the progress made in Englewood and Harrison — while he waits for a net increase in manpower.
“Over the last year, we had an incredible surge in homicides and shootings. That seems to be continuing. While there’s been some progress made, from a pure statistical standpoint, we seem to be on pace with 2016, which is a problem,” she said.
Lightfoot also raised questions about whether Johnson has “enough bodies — not just on the street level, but in the upper supervisory ranks, to get the job done.”
“The department, at the exempt rank, is still suffering from the loss of 20 to 25 people when Jody Weis started. You lost hundreds of years of experience during that time. When you chop off a top echelon of leaders, the department is still suffering as a result,” she said.
Johnson, 56, was vacationing in Florida and couldn’t be reached for comment, a spokesman said.
He put his stamp on the department by replacing one-third of Chicago’s 22 district commanders.
He also has altered police strategy by installing Strategic Decision Support Centers in violent police districts, including Englewood on the South Side and Harrison on the West Side. Similar centers are being created in four other districts, too.
The centers are rooms in which analysts from the police department and University of Chicago Crime Lab review gunfire data and suggest where officers should be deployed.
Information from gunshot detectors and surveillance cameras is displayed on large TV monitors in the rooms. Officers have access to the information on their cellphones and in-car computers. The real-time information allows officers to go to the exact spot where a shooting occurred and take safety precautions.
Police have credited the intelligence from the centers with helping to reduce shooting incidents significantly in Englewood and Harrison so far this year.
Asked about Johnson’s first year as police superintendent, Roseanna Ander, executive director of the U of C Crime Lab, pointed to a report the lab produced earlier this year that analyzed gun violence in Chicago.
“While that is certainly not only a challenge for the police department to fix, we are encouraged by the receptivity of Chicago Police Department under Supt. Johnson’s leadership to try new strategies and in particular the [Strategic Decision Support Centers] where for the first time civilian crime analysts are being embedded at the district level,” Ander said in a statement.
“From Supt. Johnson on down to officers on the streets in the six SDSC districts, the civilian analysts have been surprisingly seamlessly brought onto the team to work in partnership to support CPD’s efforts tackle gun violence.”
Karen Sheley of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois pointed out that Johnson’s one-year anniversary coincides with the one-year anniversary of a report by the mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force that called for sweeping changes in the police department.
Sheley, director of the ACLU’s police practices project, said she was concerned about the pace, content and transparency of the reforms.
“The CPD has not committed to many of the reforms and is only beginning to implement others,” she said.
She noted that a separate Justice Department report released later in 2016 also blasted the department for deficiencies such as poor training involving Tasers and a disciplinary system with “far too much discretion.”
“Finally, in the most recent update on reform, which doesn’t address all the issues identified by the task force or DOJ, the CPD did not provide a timeline or detail on their plans. All of this calls for independent judicial oversight for CPD reforms,” Sheley said.
Johnson has dropped about 30 pounds since late January when his near-collapse during a news conference at the Englewood District, apparently unrelated to his chronic kidney disease, prompted him to confirm that he’s on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.
Lightfoot said Johnson’s decision to talk publicly about his lifelong health struggle after the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed it “humanized him” and served as a rallying cry for a demoralized rank-and-file.
“It’s bought him a significant amount of good will,” she said.
The wait for a kidney transplant is not the only thing hanging over Johnson’s head.
Days after his January health scare, Johnson asked Inspector General Joe Ferguson to look into allegations that Johnson’s fiancée, Chicago Police Lt. Nakia Fenner, intervened to help her son following a traffic stop.
It wasn’t the first time Fenner has been the subject of one of the inspector general’s investigations. In a critical report on Chicago’s police force, the U.S. Justice Department lifted the veil on another Ferguson investigation involving Fenner into allegations of cheating prior to the August 2015 lieutenants’ exam.
“The city’s inspector general is . . . currently investigating allegations that three recently-promoted lieutenants were coached by a high-ranking official who helped develop the August 2015 lieutenant’s exam,” the report said in a section devoted to CPD’s promotion process.
Fenner wasn’t named in the DOJ report, but sources said the “ongoing investigation” is a reference to allegations that Eugene Williams, a former finalist for police superintendent, improperly coached Fenner and two other women, including the wife of former First Deputy Police Supt. Al Wysinger, prior to the lieutenants’ exam.
Williams was in a unique position to assist the women, since he had helped develop the exam. He has repeatedly refused to discuss the coaching allegations, and has since retired. All three women, including Johnson’s fiancée, were promoted after scoring well on the test. Ferguson’s office has declined to comment on that case.
No matter what the outcome of those investigations, Johnson’s tenure as superintendent will be judged by his ability to stop the bloodshed on Chicago streets, restore public trust shattered by the police shooting of McDonald and improve the poor morale blamed for a precipitous drop in police activity.
On that front, the jury is still out, according to Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo, who was voted out of office on Wednesday by an angry rank-and-file.
“I don’t know that the superintendent has as wide a berth as he might like in decision-making and/or direction because it is a political appointment,” Angelo said.
Angelo pointed to the new reports officers were required to fill out starting in January 2016 every time they stopped someone. The reports were lengthier and officers worried they could be used to criticize their stops and subject them to discipline.
“Anyone in policing could have told you — like I said in 2015 — that would adversely impact policing in Chicago and it did. But because of the superintendent’s position, he doesn’t have the ability to speak out against it as much as they might want to. That’s the big difference between my position and his position.”