Violent crime falls in 2 districts run by the Johnson brothers

SHARE Violent crime falls in 2 districts run by the Johnson brothers

Chicago Police Commanders Kenneth Johnson (left) and Kevin Johnson, who are twins, talk about a decrease in violent crimes in the Harrison and Englewood districts on Wednesday. | Maria Cardona/Sun-Times

Twin brothers.

Twin police districts.

And twin drops in crime.

Chicago Police Commanders Kenneth and Kevin Johnson’s districts have both seen double-digit percentage drops in shootings so far this year.

The soft-spoken brothers are graduates of the now-closed Quigley South Preparatory Seminary — Kenneth considered becoming a priest — and both credit the seminary with their calls to public service.

In August, Kenneth was picked to run the Englewood District on the South Side, and Kevin became commander of the Harrison District on the West Side, part of a major shakeup of the city’s police leadership.

It wasn’t an easy assignment for either brother.

The names of both districts have been synonymous with violent crime for many years. And last summer, Chicago’s escalating violence was frequently mentioned in the presidential race and was fodder for new stories around the world.

By the end of 2016, killings across the city had skyrocketed about 50 percent compared with the prior year. And the Englewood and Harrison Districts were among five police districts on the South and West Sides that accounted for 65 percent of those deaths.

So far this year, though, the Englewood and Harrison Districts have seen a downturn in violent crime.

This year through Sunday, shooting incidents had fallen 24 percent in Englewood and 45 percent in Harrison, compared with the same period of 2016, according to department statistics. The murder tally was flat in Englewood and down 24 percent in Harrison.

In an interview Wednesday, the Johnson brothers said the department’s latest crime-fighting strategies, using gunshot detectors and other technology, are making an impact on their districts.

Theirs were the first two districts in the city to install Strategic Decision Support Centers — 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.

“Now they’re not just patrolling randomly,” Kenneth Johnson said. “They’re not just riding around rubber-necking on the street waiting for something to happen.”

“They now have the ability to be more proactive than reactive,” he said.

Kevin Johnson added that more young officers work in the Englewood and Harrison Districts than in some other parts of the city. They’re familiar with using such technology.

“This is how they communicate — apps, social media, Twitter,” he said.

Chicago Police Cmdr. Kenneth Johnson (left) and Cmdr. Kevin Johnson talk about the crime rates in their districts. | Maria Cardona/Sun-Times

Chicago Police Cmdr. Kenneth Johnson (left) and Cmdr. Kevin Johnson talk about the crime rates in their districts. | Maria Cardona/Sun-Times

Beat officers, tactical officers and cops from outside units are using the Strategic Decision Support Center in the Harrison District as a hub to share information, he added.

Kenneth Johnson said he’s been urging his cops to get out of their cars and talk to residents.

“We can’t just be seen as an arm of the law,” he said.

He told the story of a little boy coming up and giving him a hug at a block party at 64th and Sangamon after the child told his dad that he didn’t want to be afraid of the police.

The brothers said they both like to patrol their districts — getting to know people and sometimes stopping criminals. Recently, Kenneth Johnson arrested a man suspected of stealing a cellphone.

“It’s called having your boots on the ground,” he said.

So far this year, the Englewood and Harrison Districts have seen total reports of all types of serious crime fall — 17 percent in Englewood and 1 percent in Harrison.

Citywide, total reports of all types of serious crime are up 8 percent, although murders have fallen 10 percent and shooting incidents are down 14 percent, according to police statistics.

Kevin Johnson said the Englewood and Harrison crime statistics are promising, but “whatever we do in these districts has to be real and transformative for the residents.”

The twins, who turn 53 on Friday, grew up in the South Shore neighborhood.

Kenneth joined the Chicago Police Department in 1986. Kevin, the younger brother by three minutes, followed him in 1991 after a stint with the Cook County Adult Probation Department.

Kenneth was a tactical lieutenant in the Lincoln District on the Northwest Side and a lieutenant on the Summer Mobile Patrol.

Kevin spent part of his career targeting gun traffickers as a sergeant on the Chicago Anti-Gun Enforcement unit. He was commander of the Calumet District on the Far South Side before taking over the Harrison District last year.

The brothers, who talk on the phone several times a day, have never patrolled together in the same police units. Sometimes, though, their nearly identical looks have sown confusion on the streets.

A few years ago, Kevin Johnson stopped a man for driving erratically in the Austin District on the West Side.

“He was just a little mouthy, but he wasn’t a truly a bad guy and we just let him go,” Kevin said.

“Later on that day, I’m working over there on the West Side. I stopped the same guy,” Kenneth Johnson recalled.

“He jumps out and he’s yelling and screaming. And he says, ‘You can’t keep messing with me!’ ”

“I said, ‘Slow down, slow down.’ And he said, ‘You just stopped me on the west end.’ ”

“I thought about it and said, ‘Oh, that was my brother.’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re wearing different clothes now!’ ”

“We get that every once in a while,” Kenneth chuckled.

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