It’s difficult to watch a news conference or interview with Chicago police superintendent-in-waiting Eddie Johnson and not think about music. For Johnson it’s the Mission Impossible theme song that seems to be playing in the background. When Mayor Rahm Emanuel arrives to talk police, Frank Sinatra’s “I Did it My Way” looms in the distance. Mr. Johnson takes the helm of the Chicago Police Department when local law enforcement controversy is at an all time high.
Chicago is poised to pay another $4.9 million to the family whose son was subjected to repeated Tasing by CPD officers and drug handcuffed from a cell into a hallway. Click here to read Chicago Tribune story. It is the second such payment in less than six weeks. So Johnson, who took office in the last week of March, is charged with not only turning around what some see as a rogue culture w/in CPD; but getting folks on the South and West sides to see CPD in a less-harmful, less-threatening light. Animosity over the murder of unarmed 16-year-old Laquan McDonald by former CPD Officer Jason Van Dyke simmers just below the surface in those community. That is Mr. Johnson’s Mission Impossible. Young McDonald’s family also is scheduled to receive a $5 million wrongful death payment.
A day after his appointment, Mr. Johnson earned an audible community groan when he stated he had never witnessed police misconduct in his 27 years on the force. The comment came across as implausible, especially given CPD’s history with Chicago’s Black community.
This was part II of Mr. Johnson’s Mission Impossible. He will now have to work triple time to gain the community’s trust; although several who have known him through the years vouch for his integrity. It’s the Black Chicagoans who had never heard of him before his appointment as interim superintendent he must try to win over. It is an objective that can be met, but it will require Mr. Johnson to abandon the traditional superintendent role and become a consistent, contributing, and visible part of the community.
Restoring community confidence in the department means the new top cop in addition to the host of neighborhood association and block club meetings, should visit barbershops, beauty salons, dollar stores, restaurants and as many places as possible where folks gather.
Mr. Johnson also needs to have his driver stop at the spots where young Black men are congregating because they have nothing to do. How many times in the last 10 years has a Black police superintendent stopped to “just talk” with young brothers who were just hanging out?
If Mr. Johnson is truly interested in restoring community trust, he must engage the community on its level-not CPD’s. It’s the young men on 16th and Pulaski street, or 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue who can tell Mr. Johnson about the bad actors within those districts. They can share with him other problems they are facing. If he is any kind of innovator, Mr. Johnson will find a way to re-direct some of the $100 million paid in police overtime to create some kind of community-CPD employment opportunities in our most distressed neighborhood.
The City Council has abdicated its role in making the mayor stick to the letter of the law regarding hiring a new superintendent. He didn’t hold a news conference or make a lengthy speech, just let the council know like Frank Sinatra the superintendent’s appointment would be done his way.