Six months ago, Eddie Johnson was one of the Chicago Police Department’s deputy chiefs. Now, he has a permanent superintendent’s job he didn’t seek — and that a mayoral task force wants him to begin by going to confession.
That’s the daunting task Johnson faces now that the City Council has dispensed with the charade of a second nationwide search by the Police Board and unanimously named Johnson as the permanent, $260,004-a-year replacement for fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.
Aldermen always applaud the appointment of a new police superintendent to get on that person’s good side. But the relationship can sour fast. Garry McCarthy is proof of that. African-American aldermen demanded his resignation months before the Laquan McDonald shooting video was released.
The same script was followed Wednesday. The debate was a love-fest with a cold reminder of McCarthy’s fate.
“I don’t think there’s anybody — ANYBODY — who has anything bad to say about you,” Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), a former Chicago Police officer and firefighter, told Johnson.
Ald. Edward Burke (14th) countered, “That’s going to change real quick.”
After the final vote, Mayor Rahm Emanuel rose to declare Johnson a “Chicago success story” and to assure him that he is “not alone” on the long road back to credibility for the Chicago Police Department.
“I want you to know, based on 50-to-0, we have your back,” Emanuel said, using the same phrase he once used about McCarthy.
A few minutes later, Emanuel took a class picture with Johnson and his command staff and administered the oath of office to the new top cop. Aldermen then suspended the rules to allow Johnson to address the Council.
Johnson told aldermen he was “honored and humbled” to accept the job he never sought. He promised to devote “200 percent every single day” to the herculean job of restoring shattered public trust and reducing Chicago’s never-ending gang violence.
The new superintendent said his goal is to “earn your trust, reduce some of this violence” and leave a Chicago Police Department — now in crisis mode — “in much better shape.”
McCarthy was fired Dec. 1 for becoming what the mayor called a “distraction” after the furor that followed the court-ordered release of a dashcam video showing a white police officer pumping 16 rounds into the body of McDonald.
On that same day, Emanuel appointed the Task Force on Police Accountability with carte blanche to take a closer look at the Chicago Police Department. That was before the U.S. Justice Department embarked on a federal civil rights investigation of the department.
The task force now wants Johnson to begin his tenure by owning up to and apologizing for the Chicago Police Department’s racist past that, the panel claims, has “justified” the community’s “lack of trust” in the Chicago Police Department.
Emanuel has already apologized for the “systematic breakdown” that culminated in the “totally avoidable” police shooting death and acknowledged the “code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department he once tried to keep out of a court record.
Johnson now must decide whether to follow the mayor’s lead with a public apology for the department’s racist past, that the task force views as an essential precursor to genuine reform.
At a time when he’s trying to boost rock-bottom police morale, the new superintendent must decide whether to pressure the mayor to alter a police contract that, the task force claims, protects wayward officers and turns the code of silence into official policy.
After the biggest day of his professional life, Johnson was asked point-blank whether the Chicago Police Department he now leads is a “racist” organization.
“We have racism in America. We have racism in Chicago. So, it stands to reason we would have some racism within our agency. Our goal is to root that out. Most of the police officers working in Chicago are professional. They treat people with respect. Those that want to engage in inappropriate misconduct, then we’ll handle them accordingly,” he said.