Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said Monday there is “no funny business” to his decision to change the rules governing merit promotions and apply the change to the last two rounds of promotions before putting the new policy in writing.
A former chief of patrol, Johnson said his goal is to make certain that patrol officers — which he called the “backbone of the department” — get their fair share of merit promotions.
And the only way to do that is to allow the deputy chiefs who sit on the five-member Merit Board and predominantly come from patrol to nominate candidates for merit promotion, the superintendent said.
“They have to physically recuse themselves . . . . Not only do they not vote on the person or play a part in the interview. They have to leave the room altogether. They have no idea how their nominated candidate fared in that interview . . . . Someone from the inspector general’s office sits in every interview to ensure that it’s done correctly so there’s no funny business,” Johnson said.
“We’re naming who the merit personnel are. We’re putting in also whoever nominated them. If that’s not transparent, I don’t know what is. . . . If we wanted to be clever about it, we wouldn’t be doing it this way. . . . If we were trying to hide something, we would not name who the merit promotees are and we definitely wouldn’t name who’s nominating.”
Inspector General Joe Ferguson, whose office monitors merit promotions, has said the November policy change was made “behind the scenes” without his office “being consulted” or apprised.
Ferguson has said the Chicago Police Department “should not be operating from nonofficial, nonpublic orders,” particularly when it impacts a merit promotion process condemned by officers interviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice as a “reward for cronyism.”
After joining Mayor Rahm Emanuel in welcoming a new class of 131 detectives at police headquarters, Johnson was asked why he implemented the change in a “verbal” order before putting it in writing.
“Usually, it takes time for our verbal orders to catch up with the written process. But we’re trying to get better at that,” he said.
Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo has said Johnson’s decision to allow Merit Board members to nominate candidates for merit promotion opens the door to even more political shenanigans.
“It seems to be borderline unethical. . . . That just casts a whole ‘nother suspicious blanket over the entire merit process,” he said.
Angelo was not appeased by Johnson’s decision to require Merit Board members who make nominations not to interview or vote on their own nominees.
“If I recuse myself, the other four people I sit with are voting on my person. If you recuse yourself, the rest of us are voting on your person. It opens itself up to too many questions and damages the entire merit process in the eyes of our members,” he said.
On Monday, Johnson scoffed at such a wink-and-a-nod scenario.
“I sat on the Merit Board. We didn’t get the names of the individuals that were actually being interviewed until maybe 10 minutes before the actual process started. If you’re gonna [be in cahoots with each other], it’s much too late to do it. You don’t see each other until you actually go in that room, so that’s not an issue,” he said.
In its scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department, the U.S. Justice Department said the “lack of transparency” surrounding the process of nominating and qualifying for merit promotions was “one of the major complaints from officers” interviewed.
“Many of the officers we spoke with, minority and non-minority alike, told us they feel merit promotions are not truly based on merit, but rather the clout you hold in the department or who you know,” said the Justice Department report released in January.
Twenty percent of detectives and 30 percent of other ranks are promoted under the merit system. The rest of the promotions are made through a testing process.
Supervisors nominate candidates and a five-member board of deputy chiefs interviews them and votes on them. The names of the candidates approved by the board are forwarded to the superintendent for his final OK.
The city has used merit promotions since the 1990s, with the stated goal of boosting the number of minorities in supervisory positions.
Johnson said the FOP’s opposition comes as no surprise. The union has been against merit promotions from the get-go.
“We’ll never get this process to where everyone would like it 100 percent. But we’re trying to make it as fair as we can,” he said.
Johnson’s new rule applied to the 135 detectives promoted last month and to the 131 detectives who started their eight weeks of training Monday.
Once those 266 detectives hit the streets, all of the vacancies in the detective ranks will be filled, and Emanuel can begin to fulfill his two-year promise to add 200 detectives.
Until then, the homicide clearance rate will continue to hover in the “20 to 30 percent range,” which Johnson openly acknowledged is abysmal.
“It’s not a CPD clearance rate. It’s a Chicago clearance rate. Police officers very rarely witness these crimes. We need the community to help us solve them,” he said.
Addressing the new detectives, Johnson pointed to the community cooperation that helped police make arrests in the murders of two of the three children recently caught in the crossfire between rival gangs.
“Imagine if we could get that type of cooperation from witnesses in the community [on] every single case. . . . Think of the message that would send to every person who contemplates pulling the trigger on our streets,” he said.