RIVER NORTH — Police Supt. Eddie Johnson took a hard line on officer misconduct Tuesday in addressing the City Club after six people were killed and dozens of others were wounded in shootings over the Memorial Day weekend in Chicago.
"Quite frankly, trust has broken down between the community and police," Johnson said. He went on to add that his department needs to be "open and honest about mistakes made in the field" in order to restore that trust.
"Do guys overdo it sometimes or make mistakes? Of course it happens," he said.
Without admitting that a "code of silence" exists in the Department, Johnson nonetheless said, "I can tell you this: Any type of inappropriate behavior simply will not be tolerated."
Ted Cox reports on what Supt. Johnson told the City Club.
According to Johnson, the Department is in the process of creating a whistleblower hotline or "something along those lines" to make it "easier to report misconduct." He promised a "severe penalty" for any officer who threatens or attempts to intimidate a colleague reporting misconduct.
"It's a new day for policing, and we won't tolerate abusive or unprofessional behavior," Johnson said.
Johnson added, however, that trust is a two-way street, and it benefits the officer as well as the community.
"The Police Department is only as strong as the trust the community has in it," he said. When placed in a difficult situation, he added, as cops are on a daily basis, "You don't want to be the next viral video." Johnson said, "I want police officers to hear a different voice in their ear saying, 'Use your best judgment, we trust you.' "
In marked contrast with the "broken windows" approach of prosecuting even minor offenses — sometimes advocated by his predecessor, former Supt. Garry McCarthy, who also attended the luncheon — Johnson said, "There's something to it, but I'm really a big believer in community policing."
Johnson blamed gang members and other known suspects with a tendency toward gunplay for the city's heightened pace of shootings and murders this year, saying 80 percent of the gun violence over the weekend was attributable to those suspects.
"We just have to do a better job of holding these repeat offenders accountable for the gun violence," Johnson said, calling for stiffened gun laws.
"We will never, ever arrest our way out" of the heightened shooting and murder statistics, he said, pointing out that many young adults in Chicago have known nothing but gang life.
"The violence in Chicago isn't just a police issue, it's a Chicago issue," Johnson said. "Parents need to be parents," and keep closer tabs on their children, including monitoring whether they're keeping guns in the home.
Johnson decried the "sick and perverted culture" that finds gang members sometimes taunting each other on social media and called for wide-ranging efforts to address crime at its origins.
In the Department, Johnson pointed to how all officers have now been trained in using Tasers, and bodycams are being used on all three shifts in the Shakespeare District and will be added next week in the Austin District.
Johnson added that he himself had taken to wearing a bodycam while on patrol and that he found it "interesting" in that it has the capacity to alter the behavior both of officers and those they interview. "It works both ways," he said.
Asked about whether the Department needs more officers, Johnson said he had to first make sure it's working at maximum efficiency before deciding whether more are necessary.
Johnson said the case of former Cmdr. Glenn Evans, now a lieutenant working out of Department Headquarters, was "still pending. I want to make sure we get it right," he added of the officer charged and found not guilty of sticking a gun down a suspect's throat.
At one point in being questioned by City Club members, Johnson was asked what the best part of his job is.
"That's a great question," he said. "I've never been asked what the best part is."
Johnson cited two top sources of satisfaction: when rank-and-file officers have trust in him and he's aware he's helping them, and when "I actually see that I'm making a difference in our communities."
Johnson was appointed Chicago's top cop in March by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, sidestepping three other finalists selected by the Police Board to replace McCarthy, and was confirmed by the City Council in April.
Johnson has also had to deal with allegations his fiancee benefited from cheating on a lieutenants exam, a topic that did not come up at the City Club Tuesday. Last week, he joined in celebrating retired former chief Eugene Williams, who is under investigation in that cheating probe.
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