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CPD Supt. Johnson reports ‘great progress’ in fighting violent crime

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson prepares for his testimony Thursday at a City Council budget hearing. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson on Thursday reported “great progress” in driving down murders and shootings and rebuilding “fractured public trust,” but aldermen had other concerns.

“Just look at the Englewood District … For the first time that I can recall, that particular district went a week-and-a-half with no shootings and no murders,” Johnson told members of the City Council during budget hearings.

“Their gun violence is down 40 percent compared to 2016 and it’s down compared to 2015, which we consider a more reasonable year. So the investment in technology has helped tremendously.”

Aldermen were pleased about the use of ShotSpotter and other “data-driven enforcement” to drive down murders and shootings in some of Chicago’s most violent districts.

But they were concerned about the fact that “the rough stuff” has spread to neighborhoods that had been relatively safe and that gang-infested districts continue to suffer.

“A lot of things are happening on the Near West Side. … You guys are doing a great job dealing with the shootings. But we’re starting to get a lot of armed robberies and burglaries and things like that we need to get on top of,” said Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

Charts for Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson’s testimony were set up Thursday in the City Council chambers. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Burnett urged Johnson to take a fresh look at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s controversial 2012 decision to close three district police stations — Wood, Prairie and Belmont. The first station closings in more than 50 years left Chicago with 22 districts, instead of 25.

Johnson said he would “re-visit that.”

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) talked about “strong-armed robberies happening during business hours.” Ald. Danny Solis (25th) complained about Pilsen gangs becoming more brazen “almost like they’re flaunting” the law and the police.

“It seems like we don’t have enough police officers,” Solis said.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he “feels pretty good’ about police presence during daylight hours. But, he said, “At night, you’re stretched too thin” responding to 911 calls.

Johnson assured him “more resources” would be coming to the 1st and 18th Districts.

When Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th) beefed that police overtime was still “out of control,” Deputy Supt. Barbara West confirmed it. She reported the department has already wracked up $120 million in overtime, and the tally is expected to hit $170 million by Dec. 31.

Johnson vowed to rein it in by holding district commanders responsible for tracking overtime, making overtime spending a key criteria at weekly Compstat meetings and by more closely monitoring court appearances by police officers.

“We are not gonna continue to use overtime as a strategy,” Johnson said, adding that the Violence Reduction Initiative driving most of the overtime would be “way down.”

Top Chicago Police officials gather before Supt. Eddie Johnson’s testimony Thursday at a City Council budget hearing. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Beale also unleashed his anger yet again about background checks, credit histories and psychological exams administered to police candidates that, he claims, are being used to “systemically discriminate against minorities.”

“There is no way that almost 70 percent of your applicants are minority, but then 70 percent of your hires are not minorities. That does not make sense,” Beale said.

“If we don’t hurry up and change this process, we’re gonna have a problem in this city.”

Under questioning from Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), West acknowledged that 1,277 police officers have retired since 2015 and 903 officers have been hired since October, 2016, when Emanuel reversed course and embarked on his two-year hiring surge. She also reported 414 vacancies.

To Munoz, those numbers were evidence of how far the city still has to go to “actually increase the number of boots on the ground.”

Last year, Johnson appeared before aldermen with a promise to develop a “fair, transparent and objective methodology” for determining where to assign both veteran police officers and the 970 reinforcements Emanuel has promised to hire over the next two years.

On Thursday, Munoz asked about the status of that study. He was told the report was “still in draft form.”

CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson and First Deputy Kevin Navarro. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Chief of Patrol Fred Waller also tempered expectations by saying the study would be a “baseline for allocation of resources” predicated only on calls for service. CPD plans to take other factors into consideration, including geography, he said.

That’s the opposite of the description offered last year.

Emanuel went around the Police Board to choose Johnson, who didn’t apply for the job, after the mayor fired his only Police Supt. Garry McCarthy in the unrelenting fallout from the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

The choice of an African-American insider was popular with aldermen — and still is, just weeks after Johnson returned to work from getting a transplanted kidney donated by his own son.

“I’m happy to see you back and looking so healthy,” said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).

Burnett referred to the blistering op-ed written by Inspector General Joe Ferguson in response to the murder of a Rogers Park schoolteacher who taught Ferguson’s children. Ferguson’s criticism infuriated black aldermen.

“I know you have a great strategy. I know you’re teaching the inspector general what you got going on. Keep it up. You have our support,” Burnett told Johnson.