Eddie Johnson must tackle the high homicide rate in Chicago and regain public trust in police, community members said
He must boost morale at the Police Department and keep his boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, happy
A longtime Chicago Police veteran became the embattled department’s new interim police superintendent on Monday.
Those who know and have worked with Eddie Johnson, formerly the chief of patrol, called him a listener who is fair but firm. And despite Johnson not being on the short list of names the Police Board recommended, everyone agrees that he must get to work, and get to work immediately, addressing problems in a city shaken by violent crime and deep-seated distrust of law enforcement.
Here are five things Johnson must accomplish:
1. Reduce violent crime
Chicago is so blood-soaked that filmmaker Spike Lee dubbed it “Chi-Raq” – as in Iraq – in his satirical movie about the city’s high homicide rate.
Just two months into this year, Chicago has posted alarming statistics. January saw 51 killings, making it the deadliest month on record in at least 16 years, CNN affiliate WGN reported. February ended with a death toll of at least 43 killings.
The Chicago Tribune said the body count made it the deadliest start to a year in the city in nearly two decades. Police have been trying to fight back, reporting that gun and homicide arrests are up.
“This is a war zone. People are afraid,” said Rev. Michael Pfleger, a Catholic pastor who has gained national attention for his work with troubled young people, particularly those touched by violence.
“I know families who are telling their sons who are away at school or living outside Chicago not to come home for the summer,” Pfleger said.
Just last weekend, 44 people were shot and one person was killed, he said.
“If that happened across the ocean in a war, there would be a national agenda set out today,” Pfleger said. “The superintendent must come up with a new strategy because I can tell you the old strategies are not working.”
2. Regain the community’s trust
Few police-involved shootings have recently stirred as much community outrage as a white Chicago police officer seen on camera shooting and killing black teenager Laquan McDonald. The officer, Jason Van Dyke, is facing murder and misconduct charges and has pleaded not guilty.
Protesters took to the streets last year to blast what they felt was excessive force and dishonesty from police and city officials about the 2014 slaying.
Pfleger made an astonishingly bleak statement about how little faith some people have in Chicago police. “People don’t waste their time calling for help anymore,” he said. “I tell people all the time, ‘Call the police’ and they say, ‘Absolutely not. I don’t want to become more angry or more frustrated.’ Pfleger is resigned to advising that they get in touch with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The DOJ is investigating whether Chicago police have made a habit of violating the law or the U.S. Constitution in their policing, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in December.
The “pattern-and-practice” probe, as it’s known, will focus on use of force, deadly force, accountability and how the Chicago Police Department “tracks and treats” those incidents, she said. Emanuel has promised cooperation.
Pfleger has confidence in Johnson because he’s seen him at work. “He is tough but fair,” he said. “I’ve seen him treat people like people, not like animals,” he said. “He has a respect. I feel good about what he can do.”
3. Be transparent
Chicagoans outraged by how the McDonald case was handled point out it took more than 400 days for the city to release video of the shooting.
“When a video is in play, police should release it within 48 hours,” said University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman. He has fought for access to police misconduct records for more than a decade and last year won the release of a small data set, which includes citizen complaints for things such as excessive use of force, illegal searches and unlawful arrests. Johnson should make sure that police “don’t even wait for the media public records request,” Futterman said.
“Release information as soon as possible and when investigations are concluded, make those findings public.”
4. Boost police morale
After the release of the McDonald video, the Chicago Tribune found that morale at the department appeared to plummet, according to numerous interviews the newspaper conducted with officers of varying ranks.
Alderman Roderick Sawyer said Johnson is well-liked by his colleagues, and he was the best choice for the top job. The two have had long conversations about law enforcement philosophy over the years, Sawyer said.
“The rank and file is ecstatic about this choice. [Johnson] is a hard-nosed policeman. He doesn’t tolerate misconduct. He’s no nonsense and when he was a commander, I found him very effective,” the alderman said. “I’m glad the mayor chose him. What we didn’t need was an outsider coming to Chicago who had to be given a tour of our neighborhoods. [Johnson] will hit the ground running.”
5. Maintain the support of his boss
In the wake of high-profile scandals involving Chicago police, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is under intense scrutiny.
It will be up to Johnson to keep Emanuel feeling like he’s doing not just a good job but making significant progress quickly, said Sawyer. Emanuel can be a tough boss, many have noted.
“Johnson is capable of doing the job. We don’t want to micromanage him,” Sawyer warned. “We need to let him loose and let a good police officer be a good police officer.”
But it’s critical that Chicago not just step back and let Johnson right the ship alone, the alderman said. “We have to give him what he needs when he asks for it,” said Sawyer. “He is going to need everyone’s help.”