CITY HALL — Interim Police Supt. Eddie Johnson faced soft questioning from aldermen Tuesday as a City Council committee weighed his confirmation as Chicago's top cop.
In the end, the Public Safety Committee endorsed both a "one-time temporary change" allowing Mayor Rahm Emanuel to directly appoint the superintendent, and Johnson as the person to assume that role.
"Everything is on the table right now," Johnson said of reforms to the Police Department. He committed to rebuilding its "culture of accountability and professionalism."
According to Johnson, police overtime is down, and foot patrols are up — a tactic he said builds officer morale and community trust.
Johnson pledged to give community policing "a shot in the arm, because right now our No. 1 goal is to get the trust of the community back." He also committed to park patrols over the summer.
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), a former Chicago Police officer, questioned Johnson on police misconduct, especially in the wake of the Laquan McDonald case.
"Some of the conduct we see out there is not something we can be proud of," Cochran said.
"There's a huge difference between an honest mistake and intentional misconduct," Johnson said. "Officers who choose to engage in misconduct can't be tolerated," he added. "One bad officer paints us all in a bad light." He said he had disciplined officers under his command and would continue to do so.
He endorsed previous initiatives, such as "de-escalation tactics" and equipping officers with Tasers and bodycams, and committed to wearing a bodycam himself. He also asked for stronger state gun laws and said he'd lobby for them in Springfield.
Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) called on Johnson to "weed out those bad apples" responsible for police abuses. "But it does not ruin the bunch," he added. "The bunch is terrific."
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) referred to "the elephant in the room: Do we have enough officers?"
Johnson said he was relying at the moment on putting more cops on the street on patrols, on bicycles and on foot. He did not commit to adding officers, although he did pledge to keep up with attrition from resignations and retirements.
Johnson blamed an 83 percent drop in registered police stops on a switch from "contact cards" to a state form at the beginning of the year. Calling them "apples and oranges," he said it was not valid to compare the two figures.
"You sound too calm," said Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, after Johnson's opening statement.
"That's 27 years of working the streets in Chicago," Johnson replied.
"Right now, all of our faith is in you," said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th). "We need you to boost these guys up and tell people to be safe.
"We got your back as long as you got our backs," he added.
Burnett also praised the partnership between Johnson and his top deputy, John Escalante, after Johnson did not apply to be chief when Escalante was appointed interim chief, and how Escalante supported Johnson after his appointment.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said she already sensed a "new aura" among police officers under Johnson's command.
After receiving the unanimous endorsement of the committee, Johnson praised the "overwhelming support not only from elected officials, but from the citizens of Chicago."
The Public Safety Committee, however, first had to adopt a "one-time temporary change" in city law allowing Johnson to be directly appointed by Mayor Emanuel, without a recommendation by the Police Board.
"Eddie Johnson is the man for the job," Reboyras said.
Yet Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) found fault with discarding the $550,000 search process already conducted by the Police Board. The board arrived at three finalists Emanuel rejected in favor of appointing Johnson. The council thus had to approve what Reboyras called a "one-time temporary change" allowing the mayor to skirt the Police Board.
"We're tweaking the rules to fit the need," Garza said. "It's not the person, it's the process I have a problem with," she added. "In the end, I don't think this was transparent."
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) countered there was no time to delay in replacing the police chief.
"Overtime is running amok. Crime is running amok," Beale said. "We have to turn our communities around right now."
"We don't have time to play," Burnett said. "People are dying in our neighborhoods. People are getting killed in our neighborhoods," he added. "We need to save people's lives in the City of Chicago." Burnett said he had talked with police officers, and they had said they could work for Johnson and expected him to raise Department morale.
"We need to stop the charade here," said Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th), dismissing the need for an additional Police Board search. "We need to move forward and get somebody in there."
"We can't afford to throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak," said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).
The committee passed the one-time fix, with only Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) opposed. That cleared the way for Johnson's questioning Tuesday afternoon and his confirmation by the full City Council Wednesday.
The likely approval comes in spite of recent revelations by DNAinfo Chicago that Johnson's fiancee is part of an investigation into allegations of cheating on a lieutenant's exam. No alderman questioned Johnson on that subject Tuesday.
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