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Mitchell: Police supt. hiring process tainted by politics

Eddie Johnson was appointed interim Chicago Police superintendent on Monday. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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Nothing against Eddie Johnson, but he’s being tarnished by City Hall’s shenanigans.

Johnson, formerly the Chicago Police Department’s chief of patrol, is heir apparent to the police superintendent job even though he didn’t apply for it, raising questions about the fairness of the hiring process.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel dropped the bombshell over the weekend, leaking news that he was rejecting the Police Board’s three recommended finalists in favor of Johnson, a 27-year Chicago Police veteran.

To pave the pay for Johnson, the mayor on Monday appointed him as interim superintendent, replacing interim Supt. John Escalante.

Escalante, who was overlooked by the Police Board in the search to fill the post permanently, has been at the helm since former Supt. Garry McCarthy was ousted in the wake of the video release of the Laquan McDonald police shooting.

OPINION

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“I believe he is the right person at the right time to serve as interim superintendent. He has the command, the character and the capability to lead the department at this critical juncture,” Emanuel said during a news conference.

“Interim Superintendent Johnson is uniquely qualified to build the morale of the police department and garner the backing of the public.”

The mayor said Johnson, a lifelong Chicagoan, will “hit the job running.”

Because the law requires Emanuel to choose a police superintendent from the finalists given to him by the Police Board, getting Johnson to the top requires a lot of political gyrations.

That makes a process, supposedly set up to ensure transparency in the wake of the Laquan McDonald crisis, a sham and an insult.

The Police Board will have to go back to the drawing board and come up with another list.

In the meantime, Johnson would apply for the job and presumably become one of the finalists and then be handed the job permanently.

I don’t doubt that Johnson is qualified to be superintendent, but that’s like posting a job you’ve already filled.

As Johnson himself noted during his remarks at the news conference, “one word” is at the heart of good policing and safe communities.

“That word is trust. Trust between the police and the people we serve; trust between the rank and file and the command staff; trust between police and elected officials and community leaders; and trust among police officers who must both watch each other’s back and hold each other to high standards,” the new interim police superintendent said.

Yet why should the public be expected to trust the police department when the very process the city used to install its leadership is fixed.

Additionally, this latest bungling at City Hall doesn’t signal real change.

If Emanuel had worked to amend the law so that he could have picked the police superintendent outright that would have been change.

If he had encouraged Johnson to apply before the process played out, that would have been change.

What this sham process shows is Chicago is still being governed by what is politically expedient rather than what is morally right.

The mayor is also undermining a board that has operated in good faith under some trying circumstances.

Frankly, if the mayor doesn’t trust the judgment of the Police Board when it comes to this critical decision, why in the world would he expect the public to respect that board’s judgment on important decisions it must make in the future?

As for Johnson being able to boost morale of rank-and-file police officers, using a crooked process to elevate an African-American veteran cop in a predominantly white police force hardly accomplishes that goal.

Chicago needs demonstrable change, not the same old political games.

Johnson may be a good choice, but the mayor’s interference with this process is as knee jerk as it comes.

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