Tough Challenges Ahead for Chicago’s Next Top Cop

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has done a good job in trying circumstances.

That’s the view of multiple people involved in the effort to reform the police department – as well as at least one former cop WTTW News spoke with.

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Johnson assumed the job of top cop after former police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was forced to resign by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the wake of the shooting of African American teenager Laquan McDonald by a white police officer.

“I think more than anything else he helped stabilize what was a difficult situation for the police department,” said Sergio Acosta, a former assistant U.S. attorney for 18 years and a member of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force.

“He came in under very difficult circumstances and for the most part he has achieved a level of respect from the rank and file – I think they know that he’s got their back. But by the same token he is someone who has clearly taken the position that he is not going to cover up or permit misconduct,” said Acosta.

Brian Warner, a former Chicago police officer and now founder of Chicago Police Survivors, a group of current and retired officers who have survived traumatic incidents, agreed that Johnson has the respect of the rank and file.

However, he said Johnson’s decision not to meet with President Donald Trump at a recent conference of police chiefs in Chicago did not go down well given Trump’s staunch support for law enforcement.

“I would say overall he did a good job,” said Warner. “The last month has obviously been difficult for him with the union vote of no confidence. His spat with Trump and then his personal incident with his car. Unfortunately, I think that is going to overshadow any of the good work that he did … I think the troops respected him but I think that went by the wayside a little bit when he refused to go to the president’s thing.”

Karen Sheley is a lawyer and director of the Police Practices Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, where she is responsible for enforcing the ACLU’s agreement with the city of Chicago and the police department regarding the stop-and-frisk policy.

Sheley agreed that Johnson rose to the top job at a particularly tough time for the police department and has helped to bring about significant progress, even if the reform process is far from complete.

“He came in at a time of crisis. In a time when there was an absence of leadership and the department was really at a nadir,” said Sheley. “He has gotten us through to the point where we have commitments in writing from the department and the city to make serious changes. I think the grade as he leaves is going to be coming from the monitor of the consent decree. Her first report is coming out quite soon and in that report we are going to see that the department has made some headway on a number of pieces but they still have a long way to go to implement the decree.”

Autry Phillips, a member of the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability and executive director of the Target Area Development Corporation, believes that Johnson should be credited for starting a conversation with communities of color that have had a historically antagonistic relationship with the police department.

“On Supt. Johnson’s watch we were headed in the right direction,” said Phillips. “I don’t think that we were on the same page but I think that we were getting there. … Eddie Johnson’s legacy for us is that the conversation has started. So we need to ensure that we hold the next police chief accountable to ensure we continue to go forward.

“It’s on us to make sure that the next person who comes in and holds that office is held accountable for continuing what Eddie Johnson has started.”

Related stories:

Top Cop Eddie Johnson Announces Retirement: ‘It’s Time’

Spotlight Politics: Johnson’s Retirement Will Set Off Political Fight for Next Superintendent

Mayor Lightfoot on Eddie Johnson Retirement Reports: ‘He’s Still Here’

Police Union Leaders Issue Vote of No Confidence in Eddie Johnson

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