Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson on Tuesday said he learned early on in his three-decade career as a cop that it’s best to not worry about things beyond his control.
Taking questions from reporters after he addressed the City Club of Chicago, Johnson was asked if he’d like to stay at the helm of the CPD after the upcoming mayoral election.
“I took this job because I love this city. I want to see this city safe,” Johnson said. “The political part of it, that’s out of my control. One thing that cops recognize early on, we don’t worry about things that we can’t control.”
Last month, mayoral candidates Toni Preckwinkle and Gery Chico both said they would remove Johnson from his post if elected.
Johnson noted that, during his tenure as superintendent, the CPD has rolled out a series of ambitious reform plans aimed at repairing trust between police and minority communities while also taking steps to curb the city’s entrenched gun violence.
“I love this department, and I want to do everything I can to move this department forward and make it a model agency for this country,” Johnson said. “We started some things in 2016 that I would like to see to the end. We’re not there yet. So I would like to be around long enough to ensure that the things we’ve put into place remain in place.”
Johnson’s comments came just minutes after he announced the CPD’s latest strategic plan, which will focus on public safety, community trust, professional development and operational excellence.
Preckwinkle — the former South Side alderman and current Cook County Board President who has found herself on the defensive in the wake of Ald. Ed Burke’s federal charges — said she’d replace Johnson because “he refused to acknowledge that there was a code of silence in the police department…I don’t think that’s an honest statement.”
Chico said last month that, “There are too many questions swirling around Johnson and how he’s dealt with misconduct to date” to justify keeping him as superintendent.
“The trust between police and communities has broken down, and we need someone who is going to lead us, who has the full faith of the city to do the right thing when there are any allegations of police misconduct,” he said.
Tuesday, Johnson said that officers who engage in misconduct should indeed be punished, but added that improved officer training would help minimize misconduct.
“We just have to keep encouraging officers and letting them know, when you’re out there working you’re going to encounter some situations that you, you know, from the first point of that encounter, you know it’s just misconduct,” he said.
“If we make mistakes, then it should not be a death penalty for these officers. What it should be, you know, is they are held accountable. And if it means suspension time, then so be it. But then it’s my job to make sure they get the coaching, training and the mentoring that they need to ensure that they’re on the right track.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel picked Johnson to be superintendent in March 2016 as the city and CPD were enmeshed in the fallout from the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video. Johnson, who was the department’s chief of patrol, did not apply for the superintendent’s job.
And while Johnson hopes to remain in his position to see departmental reforms fully implemented, there is a shelf life for CPD superintendents. Johnson’s four most recent predecessors — Garry McCarthy, Jody Weis, Phil Cline and Terry Hillard — were all in the position for at least three years, but no more than five.