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Chicago mayor: We must root out cancer of police abuse
01:37 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says interim superintendent is "the right person, at the right time"

Eddie Johnson started as beat cop and worked his way up to chief of patrol

He wasn't among three finalists the Chicago Police Board recommended

CNN  — 

Hoping to restore trust in a department marred by controversial police shootings and struggling with high homicide rates, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Eddie Johnson as interim police superintendent Monday.

Johnson started as beat cop and worked his way up to chief of patrol. He has been with the Chicago Police Department since 1988.

“I believe he is the right person, at the right time, to serve as interim superintendent. He has the command, the character and the capability to lead the department at this critical juncture,” Emanuel told reporters.

“He will lead from the front by ensuring that he and his team have our officers’ back. He also has the ability to build bridges to the community so its residents also have our officers’ back. He will restore trust in the work of the Chicago Police Department, but also restore pride in the men and women who serve in the department,” the mayor said.

5 tough things on Eddie Johnson’s to-do list

Emanuel stressed that Johnson is well-respected within the department and will be able to hit the ground running.

Alderman Roderick Sawyer told CNN that he’s known Johnson for many years and that they often talk about policing.

“The rank and file is ecstatic about this choice,” Sawyer said. “(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.”

Others active in the community, such as the Rev. Michael Pfleger, said they’ve seen Johnson on the beat delivering fair but firm treatment.

Pfleger has gained nationwide attention for his efforts to help young people in one of the country’s most notoriously violent cities.

“What I liked about him is that he’s not a real flashy person,” said Pfleger, reflecting on his interaction with Johnson. “He’s the quiet storm. He listens. He’s a tremendous listener of the community. He’s one of those cops who gets it. He said, ‘We need ideas, thoughts, contributions from not just mothers and fathers but brothers on the corner and brothers on the street.’ He would take that information back and make it part of his strategy.”

Surprise pick

The mayor’s pick surprised many because he was not one of the three people that the Chicago Police Board recommended be given the job.

The police board had named three finalists – Cedric Alexander, the DeKalb County, Georgia, public safety director; former Spokane, Washington, police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick; and Chicago police Deputy Superintendent Eugene Williams.

Alexander, a CNN law enforcement analyst, said he met with Emanuel three times and that he was considered the front-runner.

“It was at our third meeting in Washington, D.C., on Thursday with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that it was suggested that I had the job,” he told CNN. “Then on Saturday night I got a call from Mayor Emanuel and he said to me, ‘We are going to go in another direction.’ “

Regardless, Alexander told CNN that he is happy to move on and said he won’t be speaking further about the matter on television.

The president of the police board released a statement Monday saying the board would convene as soon as possible to determine next steps.

“While we appreciate that this is a topic of great importance and interest, the Board needs to take the time necessary to make the best decision possible given the importance of this issue for our City. Until that time, we will have no further comment,” it read.

Emanuel spent months talking to officers, residents and local leaders before choosing Johnson.

“I believe Eddie Johnson has everything that the city needs. I believe the other three all have qualities and strengths. I take nothing away from them,” he told reporters. “They have a lot of offer.”

All eyes on Chicago

Speaking alongside the mayor Monday, Johnson stressed the depth and breadth of his roots in Chicago and at the Chicago Police Department.

“I raised my kids here. My family is here,” he said. “I know that trust won’t be restored overnight. It has to be earned every day in both routine as well as high-pressure situations.”

Johnson will have to face much turmoil in his new position. Recent headlines called Chicago the “murder capital of the U.S.” or “murder city” as it battled a years-long struggle with rising and falling homicide rates, especially in poorer, black neighborhoods such as Austin and Englewood.

Chicago police reported that since the middle of February, gun arrests are up 43%, and that for the whole month, arrests for homicide are up 40% over February 2015.

When asked by reporters what his message would be to the worst offenders, Johnson said: “I would say to these young people out here, shooting and killing, they are destroying our communities. They are destroying families, and it has to stop.”

In addition, the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation last year after police released the October 2014 video of Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald on a Chicago street. The officer is white.

The video of McDonald’s death outraged many Chicagoans, who took to the streets to protest what they felt was excessive use of force and dishonesty by police and city officials. Police initially accused McDonald of threatening officers. The demonstrators also questioned why it took more than 400 days to release the video despite the city paying McDonald’s mother a $5 million settlement.

Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder in the teenager’s death. He has pleaded not guilty.

CNN’s Marylynn Ryan, Michael Martinez and Seth Kovar contributed to this report.