Mayor Rahm Emanuel should be free to install Eddie Johnson as his permanent police superintendent without the “dog-and-pony show” of a second Police Board search, influential aldermen said Wednesday, and the mayor agreed.
After rejecting the Police Board’s three finalists and anointing Johnson as interim superintendent, Emanuel said he expected the board to take a “normal deep breath” before conducting a second nationwide search as required by an ordinance put in place 50 years ago after the cops-as-robbers scandal in the Summerdale District.
On Wednesday, Emanuel changed his tune.
“We have a very good person in Eddie Johnson who garners support across a spectrum of people . . . When you have a consensus like that, not just me, but also the aldermen believe we need to move forward so Eddie and his team can be totally focused on the safety and security,” the mayor said.
“The Police Board did their work and they did it well, and I thank them for that. I also think they continue to serve a role. What we’re dealing with is a situation — given the violence on our streets, particularly on the South and West sides — of how to make sure all our public safety is focused on that mission and not worried about anything else.”
With homicides and shootings surging and the traditional summer spike in violent crime fast approaching, influential aldermen couldn’t agree more.
Now that the mayor has his man in Johnson, Black Caucus Chairman Roderick Sawyer (6th), Hispanic Caucus Chairman George Cardenas (12th) and Public Safety Committee Chairman Ariel Reboyras (30th) said it makes no sense for the Police Board to go through the motions of another costly and time-consuming nationwide search.
“We need to forgo the whole search process. What’s the point? We don’t need to hoodwink anybody,” Cardenas said.
“The vote would have to be two-thirds of the Council. But let’s give the mayor flexibility to make his pick without having to do another new search. It saves time and money, and we dispense with the niceties. We have to get down to fixing the violence.”
Sawyer noted that the $260,044-a-year job of police superintendent is the only cabinet position that Emanuel is not free to fill without City Council approval.
“The frustration any mayor would have is finding somebody he feels comfortable with, but still putting on the dog-and-pony show of having to go through that process. Let’s dispense with the dog-and-pony show so we can get moving,” Sawyer said.
The law requires the mayor to select the next superintendent from among three finalists chosen by the Police Board or reject all three names and order the board to start over.
Sources said Emanuel offered the job to Johnson before taking that legal step. He managed to meet the letter of the law by rejecting the three names, appointing Johnson, first to replace John Escalante as interim superintendent, then asking the Police Board to conduct a second search.
This time, Johnson, who did not apply the first time around, will apply and presumably be one of the finalists. The mayor could then make it official and hand Johnson the permanent job.
“If you look at the ordinance the way it’s written now, they’ll continue to send him three names until this guy [Johnson] is in there. Who are we fooling? It’s a waste of time and money,” Sawyer said.
Reboyras acknowledged that amending the law after the fact could risk a lawsuit challenging Emanuel’s unprecedented end-run around his handpicked Police Board.
“That’s going to be the tough part — to see if we can do this legally,” Reboyras said. “But my colleagues are getting antsy about this. It’s taking too long. We’re spinning our wheels here. We need to move forward. We may just decide to forget the ordinance and approve this guy.”
Police Board President Lori Lightfoot could not be reached for comment on the maneuvering by aldermen to change the ordinance. Earlier this week, Lightfoot issued a statement saying the Police Board would meet within a few days to determine its next move.
Shortly after his second inauguration, Emanuel brought new leadership and new blood to a Police Board with a troubled history of reversing the superintendent’s recommendations to fire accused officers.
Whatever public trust the mayor hoped to restore has now been undermined by his decision to pull the rug out from under the Police Board on the superintendent’s search. Lightfoot’s credibility has been undermined at a time when she is still co-chairing Emanuel’s Task Force on Police Accountability and when the Police Board is poised to decide the fate of Dante Servin and other heater cases.
“This latest move by Emanuel and his dealing with the Police Board in this embarrassing way underscores the fact that we need a civilian review board completely independent of the mayor and Police Department to make disciplinary decisions and decide who the superintendent is,” said civil rights attorney Flint Taylor, who has defended scores of victims allegedly tortured by former Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
University of Chicago Law Professor Craig Futterman, a student of police misconduct, noted that “far less than 1 percent of brutality cases ever go to” the Police Board and that those decisions were overturned 60 percent of the time over the past decade.
“I can only imagine how Lori Lightfoot feels right now. But in terms of their credibility as an oversight mechanism and the damage this decision does to the Police Board’s credibility and integrity, it has none. Even before this,” Futterman said.