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Rahm Names Eddie Johnson Interim Police Chief Amid Pressure From Black, Latino Caucuses

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Mar 28, 2016 8:55PM

Updated: 3:50 p.m.:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Chief of Patrol Eddie Johnson's appointment as the new interim superintendent of the Chicago Police Department Monday afternoon. According to a statement, he will ask the Police Board to conduct a new search for the permanent replacement for ex-police chief Garry McCarthy.

The Sun-Times broke the news over the weekend that Johnson, the department's current chief of patrol, is Emanuel's choice for top-cop, even though he was not one of the three finalists for the job chosen by the Chicago Police Board earlier this month.

The Sun-Times reported that Johnson has been offered a $260,044 salary to fill the position left open when ex-superintendent Garry McCarthy was ousted during the fallout from last year's revelation that a Chicago police officer was caught on video fatally shooting a teenaged Laquan McDonald 16 times as he attempted to flee. Though the mayor is required by law to select a police chief from the Police Board's pool of candidates, Emanuel will reportedly circumvent the law by naming Johnson the new interim superintendent and then asking the police board to consider Johnson for the permanent position.

According to the Monday afternoon statement from the mayor's office, Johnson is a Chicago native "who grew up in Cabrini-Green until he was 9-years-old before moving to Washington Heights," where he lives now. He joined the police force as a patrolman in May 1988, and since then he has served as lieutenant in the 15th District, Commander in the 6th District, Deputy Chief for Area Central, Executive Officer, and Chief of Patrol, among other position.

The mayor's office says Johnson reduced crime in the areas under his watch: "Under his leadership, Area Central led the city in 2013 with a 32% reduction in firearm related violence, lowering the number of murders, shootings and shooting victims in Area Central. And during his tenure as the Deputy Chief of Area Central in 2014, his team continued to drive down firearm related violence. Under his watch, Area Central patrol drove down shootings by an additional 27% -- double the shooting reduction of other Areas in the city at the time."

"Eddie has proven to be a terrific leader and fair boss who puts his officers first and has their backs," Emanuel said in the statement. "He has also been willing to hold officers accountable when necessary. I have full confidence that in the coming months he will run this department just like he has approached his other command positions -- with independence, hard work, and a love for this police department."

Shortly after the mayor's Monday afternoon announcement, Johnson announced that he was promoting Fred Waller to Chief of Patrol (the position Johnson previously held) and Kevin Navarro to Deputy Chief of Area South. Waller was Deputy Chief of Area South until today, and Navarro was commander of the Area South Detective Division.

Chicago cop John Escalante, whom the mayor thanked in his speech, was serving as the interim police chief. The police board had already chosen three finals for the permanent job: Deputy police superintendent Eugene Williams, retired Spokane, Washington police chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Cedric Alexander, the public safety director for a Georgia county and the only person of color among the finalists. Of those candidates, the Tribune reports that Alexander was Emanuel's favorite, but that he preferred to pick a department insider—perhaps under pressure from black and Latino aldermen.

In a statement to the Tribune, mayoral spokeswoman Kelly Quinn said Emanuel called the candidates on Saturday to tell them they did not have the job.

"While each of the finalists had strong qualifications, the mayor did not feel that any of them were the complete package that Chicago needs at this time, and thus none were offered the position. The mayor called each of them individually late Saturday to let them know of his decision."

Johnson, an African American who has served with the department for 27 years, is "not a polarizing figure" in the police force, the Sun-Times wrote. Johnson was the commander of a far South Side police district until 2012, when McCarthy promoted him to deputy chief of patrol. Escalante promoted him to chief of patrol last December. At the time, the department released a statement praising Johnson's accomplishments:

“Chief Johnson has significant experience managing large-scale special events and was instrumental in the operational planning and response of the 2012 NATO Summit. He has also served as a supervisor in the detective bureau and is currently completing his master’s degree in public policy and administration at Northwestern University.”

Johnson apparently has no complaints filed against him documented in the Citizens Police Data Project. And besides his credentials, Johnson's status as a longtime department veteran stands in contrast to the department's previous police chiefs, who were each criticized as outsiders. Pressure from the City Council's Black and Latino caucuses could also have something to do with Emanuel's decision. Latino aldermen have said they want Escalante to win the promotion, and suggested that racial bias may have led to him being passed over despite serving as interim superintendent since December.

Meanwhile, black aldermen have also said they would not vote to approve a new superintendent unless they are allowed to question the finalists first. The Sun-Times says the Black Caucus would evidently prefer an African-American superintendent chosen from within the department's ranks.

Police Board President Lori Lightfoot said in a statement Sunday morning that the police board "has not received formal communication from the Mayor regarding the three nominees it submitted for the position of Superintendent of Police," and "the Board will be taking no action until it receives such notification."