Johnson to Chicago police graduates: ‘I will have your back’

Presiding over his first police graduation ceremony, the mayor thanked the new officers assembled at Navy Pier for answering the call to serve.

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Mayor Brandon Johnson addresses Chicago’s newest police officers at the Police Department’s graduation ceremony Monday at Navy Pier.

Mayor Brandon Johnson addresses Chicago’s newest police officers at the CPD graduation ceremony Monday at Navy Pier.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Mayor Brandon Johnson on Monday assured 261 new police officers, “I will have your back” — and the rookies applauded when their mayor declared: “If you don’t live in the city of Chicago, you don’t have a right to talk about the city of Chicago.”

Presiding over his first police graduation ceremony, Johnson thanked the new officers for answering the call to serve and protect in what he called “some of the most difficult political times our city has ever experienced.”

“Know as your mayor, as your brother, I’m here to build the type of coalition that generations to come will marvel because this will be the generation that stared into the eyes of the divisive nature that’s been created by political forces that do not want the city of Chicago to succeed. But this is the freakin’ city of Chicago. The best city in the world, and no one — no one — will come before us,” Johnson told the graduates in the grand ballroom at Navy Pier.

“If we’re gonna have a society that we all can be proud of and a society we can raise our families in, it’s gonna take all of us. No one can sit on the sidelines. And let me make this emphatically clear: If you don’t live in Chicago, you don’t have a right to talk about the city of Chicago.”

Johnson did not identify those nay-saying nonresidents. He didn’t have to.

Even after yet another violent Chicago weekend, with 10 fatal shootings and 36 wounded, the graduates declared by their applause that many of them, too, may be sick and tired of hearing and reading about what’s wrong with their city.

Johnson spent the entire mayoral campaign distancing himself from his history of supporting the concept of defunding the police and denying that he planned to cut “one penny” from the Chicago Police Department’s $1.94 billion budget.

Ultimately, Johnson vowed to cut $150 million from the police budget and reinvest the savings in the Police Department by promoting 200 detectives, improving officer wellness and speeding compliance with a federal consent decree.

Chicago Police Department rookies at their graduation ceremony Monday, June 5, 2023 at Navy Pier.

Chicago Police Department rookies at their graduation ceremony Monday at Navy Pier.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

During Monday’s graduation, Johnson told the newly minted officers that their “commitment to the principles of justice and fairness” and to protecting Chicago neighborhoods is the “soul of Chicago” that he talked so much about in his inaugural address.

“This duty will require an immense amount of courage, bravery, resilience, compassion empathy. But you have it. You have it deep down in your soul, and that’s why you are here today. The people of Chicago want that from our Police Department. Better, stronger, safer communities deserve better relationships with the very people who are prepared to serve and protect. Chicagoans want to trust the Police Department,” he said.

“When you show up on some of the most difficult days, the most vulnerable moments, you’ll be there building this trust and respect. This trust and respect … will help you, too. Your ability to make bonds with communities that have been disinvested in over the course of decades is critical to your service,” the mayor said.

Vanquished mayoral challenger Paul Vallas was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police. FOP President John Catanzara went so far as to warn during the campaign that Johnson’s election would pave the way for “an exodus like we’ve never seen before” with as many as 1,000 officers leaving the Police Department.

But Johnson was apparently determined to convince the graduates that they have no reason to fear or flee. They will have the support they need from City Hall, he said.

“Let me state it here and now I’m committed to working with the Chicago Police Department and the full force of government to ensure that the city of Chicago has everything that it needs to thrive. Whether it’s the faith community, the business community [or] every single agency that I have jurisdiction over. I will have your back to ensure that the city we all love has everything that it deserves,” he said.

Mayor Brandon Johnson on Monday, June 5, 2023 addressed his first class of Chicago Police Department graduates since taking office.

Mayor Brandon Johnson on Monday addressed the first class of Chicago Police Department graduates since he took office.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Monday was also the first graduation ceremony for interim Chicago Police Supt. Fred Waller, whose appointment sent a message to demoralized, overworked and under-appreciated officers who have been retiring in droves.

Waller told the graduating class — nearly one-third of them women, 74% persons of color — that they represent “the hope in Chicago.”

“In fact, I’m reminded of a quote from Roman historian Tacitus. He once wrote, ‘In valor, there is hope.’ In you — in your decision to serve, in your vow to protect — there is valor and there is hope. All of you give me hope,” Waller said.

“Your courage and your commitment is proof in your belief in the city of Chicago. Don’t ever lose that — even when it seems as if the work we do is in vain. Trust me, it’s not,” he said.

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