clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Eddie Johnson, facing the heat for Chicago’s crime wave

Police superintendents are not magicians who can wave a wand to stop violence.

Supt. Eddie Johnson speaks about the violence that took place over the July 4 holiday weekend.
Supt. Eddie Johnson addresses the violence that took place over the July 4 holiday weekend.
Megan Nagorzanski/Sun-Times

As summer sizzles on, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson is in the hottest seat.

On the eve of the July 4 holiday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called a press conference to preview the city’s public safety plans. A reporter asked whether Johnson would keep his job.

“He’s doing good,” Lightfoot replied. “I have a great deal of respect for the superintendent.”

Yet neither she nor Johnson would be “satisfied,” she added, “until we really significantly, structurally change the violent crime in the city.”

Every Monday morning, the body count offers another “tell.”

Every “Accountability Monday,” Johnson meets with the boss to review another weekend of murder and mayhem.

If the city’s insidiously ingrained wave of violent crime doesn’t end soon, Johnson will be gone.

It’s a simple, political solution. Someone has to take the ultimate heat. It won’t be the mayor.

Yet firing one man won’t bring “structural change.”

Eddie Johnson doesn’t need my endorsement. The 30-year police veteran can take care of himself.

But my take is that he cares deeply and works harder, introducing high-level technology to detect and curb crime. He is collaborating with outside experts, such as the University of Chicago Crime Lab, relationships the insular police culture is prone to shun. Johnson has been building up his ranks with new recruits, who, hopefully, bring new attitudes.

He has ramped up police training and wellness efforts. He and his top brass meet regularly with community leaders, business owners and residents to solicit their ideas and cooperation. He consults with colleagues in other cities.

Yet the victims continue to perish in the city’s killing fields. The mayor may soon say, he’s a good man, but he’s got to go. The department, she’ll argue, needs new eyes and new ideas.

Then she will embark on the long, excruciating search for a new miracle worker.

After Rahm Emanuel fired former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy in 2015, the Emanuel-appointed Police Board, then led by Lightfoot, launched a national search.

The board recommended three impressive finalists. Instead, Emanuel tapped Johnson, who didn’t even apply for the top job.

If Johnson goes, it will take at least several months to install a new superintendent, and many more to see results. Most experts say it takes a police chief at least five years to learn enough to effect change.

Police superintendents are not magicians. There is no magic wand that will end the violence.

It’s a massive, systemic problem that requires a massive, systemic solution.

Police don’t create crime. They respond to it.

Chicago’s police force has been demoralized by scandal, misconduct among their own, and violence in the communities they are sworn to serve and protect. Its police union is committed to laying blame and grabbing headlines.

Residents of the city’s crime-besieged communities live in terror, yet many are unwilling to finger the criminals. The criminals are often the victims of an unjust criminal justice system, poverty, or both.

As Johnson and Lightfoot have acknowledged, fighting crime in Chicago is a complex task with no simple or singular solutions.

A new top cop can’t change idle youth who have no jobs and possess even less hope. The immoral gang-bangers will shoot at anyone, no questions asked. The infinite supply of illegal guns will still pour over Illinois’ porous borders. The endemic mistrust between law enforcement and black and brown communities is 50 years in the making.

No superintendent, no mayor, no one, has the magic to end it.

Laura Washington is a columnist for the Sun-Times and a political analyst for ABC 7-Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @mediadervish