This week, the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, Eddie Johnson, age 60, which is the second largest police department in the nation, announced his retirement. He had originally been appointed to the post of “top cop” a little over three years ago by the former Mayor of Chicago in the wake of the public uproar surrounding the killing of Laquan McDonald.
In that case, which made national headlines, a young black man was shot dead by a white officer, Jason Van Dyke. Although video of the event was captured of the incident from dash cam and body cam video showing that the teenager was carrying a knife, it did not appear to most viewers that he had brandished the weapon at the police officer or specifically threatened him in any way. Nevertheless, the officer opened fire on the young man, and he died soon thereafter. Months and months of public outcry followed in which the Cook County States Attorney’s Office was accused of suppressing the video from release and failing to charge the officer with an unjustified shooting. By many accounts, both the exit of the current Chicago Police Superintendent and the defeat of the then States Attorney at the next election were the result of this unfortunate chapter in Chicago history. Eventually, the officer was in fact charged with the crime and later convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to jail.
During Johnson’s tenure here, he was again in the national spotlight when the “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was involved in what most believe to be an elaborate hoax during which he claimed that he was attacked and beaten by two men in masks who hurled homophobic and racial insults. As a result of this police report, the Chicago Police Department undertook an extension and expensive investigation of the allegations, eventually accusing the actor of defrauding the city and hurting the city’s race relations and reputation. The actor was then charged with multiple felony counts and accused of filing a false police report. In a further plot twist that also made national headlines, the new States Attorney (who had succeeded the prior prosecutor after the Laquan McDonald shooting), then cut a deal which was widely criticized in which all of the criminal charges were dropped (called a deferred prosecution). This placed the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County States Attorney’s Office at odds as the police are very typically consulted in those cases when the prosecutor is contemplating the dismissal of criminal charges.
During the years that Johnson ran the CPD, he was credited with reducing the homicide rates to under 600 per year, from numbers that had been much higher in previous periods. Still, compared to other big cities like Los Angeles and New York, the Chicago death rate remained more than double that found in these other large metropolitan areas. He also was in the news for health problems that came to light when he appeared to faint at a public event and later was sidelined for an illness that required surgery. Health issues were cited as one of the major reasons why he chose to end his position with the police. Before serving as an officer, Johnson grew up in Chicago, living for a time in the Washington Heights neighborhood as well as the Cabrini-Green Housing Project, a public housing project that was infamous for high rates of crime, murders and drug usage.
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