CHICAGO — The man who took the helm calmly steering the ship through deep, dangerous waters after Laquan McDonald announced he’s stepping down at the end of the year.
Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announced Thursday that he is retiring as the city's top cop.
Johnson made the announcement at a news conference a couple hours after department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed the speculation that the 59-year-old Johnson would be stepping down. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said he'd agreed to serve through the end of 2019.
“It’s time for someone else to pin these four stars to their shoulders,” Johnson said. “These stars can sometimes feel like carrying the weight of the world.”
Surrounded by family including his wife, his sons, his brother-in-law and godmother, Johnson wanted a celebratory feel and to show retiring now was his decision.
A Chicago native, and CPD lifer, Johnson told his own story.
“It’s a story of a kid who began his life in Cabrini Green and later moved to the South Side,” he said. “Like too many children in Chicago, I experience the trauma
of gun violence first hand as a child. I saw how these unspeakable acts could tear a family apart. … I could have easily learned to hate this city but my family taught us to love it. I took the police test and enrolled in the police academy on the 2nd of May 1988. I wanted to keep Chicago safe.”
It was a mission Johnson continued for more than 30 years, working his way up the ranks, climbing to top cop. He was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2016 as tensions soared over the Laquan McDonald shooting.
“Rahm Emanuel saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Johnson said.
In 2016, violence spiked reaching levels not seen in Chicago for decades. But Johnson stemmed the tide and is set to depart with homicides and shootings in decline.
“Reducing these shootings in the city that I love has been one of the greatest accomplishments of my career,” he said.
At times, it was an emotional event. Both Johnson and Lightfoot shed tears.
“This job has taken its toll,” Johnson said. “Taken a toll on my family, my family, my friends, but my integrity remains intact.”
After she took office, Lightfoot kept Johnson and said she wanted to see how he performed during the violent summer months.
She said he did well.
“Chicago is better because Superintendent Eddie Johnson calls our great city home,” she said.
Reaction from around the city
At city hall Thursday, some aldermen praised Johnson’s time on the job.
“He’s done good work,” 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin said. “He inherited the department at a time when there were huge issues. And I think he’s worked as hard as he can to deal with those issues as best he could.”
Activist Ja’Mal Greene, who was an outspoken critic of the police department especially during the aftermath McDonald, said Johnson should be praised for a job well done.
It’s an emotional moment for me. He has been an amazing superintendent,” Green said. “We may not always have agreed but he’s always listened. He’s always been accessible ... He was one who always listened to all sides before making a decision.”
But McDonald’s uncle, Rev. Marvin Hunter said it was time for Johnson to go.
He believes someone from within the department can’t be trusted to police his own.
He said Lightfoot should look outside the city for Johnson’s replacement.
“I believe she should do the courageous and progressive thinking thing by reaching outside the city of Chicago and getting a superintendent from somewhere else.”
Johnson is exiting with unanswered questions. Last month, he was found slumped over at the wheel of his car. He said he neglected to take a prescribed medication. But later, his boss, Lightfoot, reveled he’d had “a couple of drinks” at dinner. An Inspector General investigation is underway.
So now the mayor searches for a replacement. She has only said that she will follow the law and use the Chicago Police Board.
Thursday was Johnson’s day. The mayor did not want to discuss what comes next and who she’s looking for in a new Top Cop.