Here are the facts that matter:
Killings in Chicago are up 84 percent so far this year. Shootings are up almost 100 percent.
On a rare day when nobody is murdered, such as this past Easter Sunday, everybody cheers like we just witnessed a miracle, which maybe we have.
We turn to the Chicago Police, who risk their lives for us. Just this month, three more officers were shot. We beg them to do an even better job.
At the same time, there is this fact: Chicago has a long-standing problem with cops who cross the line. We won’t review the grim history again. We will only note that it is a problem as fresh as Wednesday’s Sun-Times, which reported that the city just agreed to settle a suit involving a man who died after being brutally dragged from a police jail cell and repeatedly shot with a stun gun.
We turn to the police, yes. We also challenge our police to be more professional.
Our point being this:
Chicago badly needs the best new police chief it can find, sooner rather than later, and who really cares about the niceties of how that chief is chosen? If Chief of Patrol Eddie Johnson — the mayor’s preference and a favorite of the City Council — is the best Chicago is going to do, let’s get on with it.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel rejected three finalists for the job put forth by the Police Board, meaning, by the letter of the law, the board now should conduct a second national search and name three more finalists, ideally this time including Johnson. But nobody wants to go through that absurd show-and-tell — certainly not the Police Board — when Emanuel has made clear that Johnson is his choice, just this week naming him interim superintendent.
A much better idea being kicked around, which sounds good to us, is for the City Council to pass an ordinance allowing the mayor to appoint Johnson without further fuss, so long as the Police Board and Council approve the choice.
This would set the stage for what now matters most: an aggressive City Council confirmation hearing. None of the usual rubber-stamping. As popular a choice as Johnson is, it is essential that he be thoroughly vetted.
The same resume that makes Johnson an attractive choice — he is a career Chicago police officer who knows the department and the city inside and out — means he should be questioned about all those police scandals over the years that finally, late last year, triggered a civil-rights probe by the U.S. Justice Department. We have heard nothing but good things about Johnson, and we’d like to see the city’s confidence in the man reinforced by a well-researched, all-business confirmation hearing.
Only then might Johnson truly, in Emanuel’s words, be able to “confront the culture that has undermined trust in the community and has affected the morale of the rank-and-file.”
We hear the argument that violent crime is up in Chicago this year because the police are reluctant to be aggressive for fear of being accused of using excessive force. Cops on the street, we are told, are hanging back. Nobody wants to be the next YouTube sensation.
Common sense says there is something to this, and the number of police stops definitely is down. But we also know it is a false conflict. An insistence on ethical police work is not — and never should be seen — as a curb on appropriately aggressive police work.
Every good cop knows this. If they are not pushing as hard as they could, it might be because they’re not so sure the boss and the public get it, too. They have to know we have their back.
It is a matter of trust. Johnson got that right.
“Trust between the police and the people we serve,” he said at a press conference earlier this week. “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 both must watch each other’s back and hold each other to high standards.”
Let’s get on with hiring a new police superintendent. Let’s get on with rebuilding trust. Let’s get on with reforming the police department. Let’s get on with fighting crime. Chicago has no time to waste.
As Johnson said, in so many words: We are in this together.
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