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City Council Approves Eddie Johnson As New Police Chief

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Apr 13, 2016 5:00AM

Updated April 13 at 2:30 p.m.:
The City Council voted Wednesday to approve the recently-appointed Interim Police Chief Eddie Johnson as the city's permanent new top cop.

The City Council's Public Safety Committee voted Tuesday afternoon to make a special, one-time change to the city's law that would allow Johnson to become the police chief. Johnson, the mayor's personal pick for the job, would otherwise have needed the approval of the Police Review Board, which is responsible for reviewing candidates. Mayor Rahm Emanuel rejected all of the Board's finalists for police chief in a surprise move last month, and moved to appoint Johnson. Johnson replaced former interim police chief John Escalante on March 28, who himself had to replace the previous top cop, Garry McCarthy late last year when McCarthy was ousted during the unfolding of the Laquan McDonald police shooting scandal.

Johnson was grilled by the Public Safety Committee in a confirmation hearing that focused on reduction in police overtime, the rebuilding of a community policing program called CAPS and the entrenched problem of police misconduct, according to the local Fox affiliate. The Police Department is facing a federal civil rights investigation in the wake of the disturbing revelation that a police officer fatally shot McDonald, a black teenager, 16 times in a video that was kept out of the public eye for over a year.

Johnson, an African-American, has served with the police department for 27 years. His past leadership positions include serving as commander of a far South Side police district, deputy chief of patrol, and chief of patrol. Johnson apparently has no complaints filed against him by the public, according to a data portal compiled by the Citizens Police Data Project. As a longtime department veteran, Johnson stands in contrast to many of the department's previous police chiefs (particularly Jody Weis, the superintendent under Mayor Richard M. Daley, and McCarthy) who were criticized as outsiders.

Pressed by several aldermen to address the issue of police accountability and the heavy toll of police misconduct, Johnson said he would create “a mechanism so we can flag narratives of inappropriate behavior in real-time,” according to the Sun-Times.

“One bad officer paints all of us in a negative light. That hill is tough to climb every time we have to face that,” he said.

The committee also debated for over an hour about whether it was appropriate to bypass the Police Board and approve the mayor's pick for police chief, according to the Sun-Times,. Some aldermen even warned that it could set a “dangerous precedent." Several aldermen expressed a sense of urgency over Johnson's appointment, thanks to concerns that Chicago gun violence is spiking and the police department needs a major overhaul.

Ald. Patrick Thompson represented the only vote against Johnson's appointment, saying that the police board provided an important check to the mayor's power.

"My question is, who is now vetting, if we're modifying the ordinance, who's doing that vetting? Who’s doing the background check?” he said.