Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson speaks about violence in Chicago during a panel discussion Monday at the City Club of Chicago. Lou Foglia | Sun-Times

Editorial: A police department that reflects Chicago long overdue

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The racial, ethnic and gender makeup of the Chicago Police Department should mirror the city it serves, Supt. Eddie Johnson said Monday.

So how’s that been working out so far?

Not well.

According to an investigative report in Sunday’s Sun-Times, white men continue to move up in rank within the CPD in disproportionately high numbers, though city officials for years have claimed to be committed to greater diversity and minority representation. And while Johnson, new to the job of superintendent, insists he is redoubling efforts to create a police force that reflects the demographics of the entire city — that’s just a matter of good sense — we would have to say, respectfully, that we’ve heard that one before.

Since 2006, white men have received more than 61 percent of the 913 promotions that were based on test scores to fill the positions of detective, sergeant or lieutenant, according to the report by Sun-Times reporters Tim Novak and Sam Charles. White men also got more than 40 percent of the so-called merit promotions to 396 detective, sergeant, lieutenant and captain slots, more than any other racial or gender group.

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Altogether, the Police Department has filled more than 55 percent of top vacancies since 2006 by promoting white men, though blacks and Hispanics account for two-thirds of the city’s population. That lack of diversity — that failure by CPD to reflect the demographics of the entire city — stretches back more than 40 years.

Supt. Johnson says he agrees that a lack of diversity can really hurt the department’s effectiveness.

“One thing I have heard time and time again in the minority communities: ‘We will feel more comfortable giving information to people that look more like us,’ ” Johnson said Monday, participating in a City Club panel discussion. “Diversity is what they are asking for. Diversity in their police department.”

White officers, according to the Sun-Times report, get six of every 10 promotions to detective, sergeant, lieutenant and captain. Blacks make up 23 percent of all Chicago cops but get only 18 percent of the promotions. Hispanics also hold 23 percent of the department’s jobs but got slightly fewer than 16 percent of the promotions. Women hold slightly more than 22 percent of all police jobs in Chicago but landed only about 17 percent of the promotions during the past decade.

Wesley Skogan, a Northwestern University professor who specializes in police issues, said those disappointing numbers clearly indicate the Chicago Police Department doesn’t have sufficient career-tracking capability to identify potential leaders.

“They’re not grooming anybody, much less people who may need a hand up in the grooming department,” he said.

So what is Johnson actually doing about this?

“In terms of minorities moving up, we are right now identifying people that we can move up through the ranks,” he said.

The underlying problem, the superintendent said, is that historically too few members of minority groups have applied to be police officers. And that, he stressed, need not be.

When, for example, the Police Department offered the entry exam “not too long ago,” he said, the department failed to meet the targeted number of minority applicants because it relied too heavily on traditional means of getting the word out, including television, print media and the local alderman’s office.

“This time around when we gave the entry exam, we used Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, things of that nature to get information out there to young people,” Johnson said. “We still used the other mechanisms, but not to the degree that we had before. … This last entry exam? Seventy-one percent of the applicants were minority.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel named Eddie Johnson police chief back in March precisely to address a crisis of confidence in the Chicago Police Department that had racial tensions at its core. Seventeen-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was African American, had been shot by a white police officer, and thousands of Chicagoans had taken to the streets in protest.

Whatever Chicago had been doing for four decades to create a police force that better mirrors its city was not enough.

On Monday, Johnson said, “I think that we are moving in that direction.”

Time will tell, but we cheer him on.

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