Johnson reflects on career, personal experience that led him to CPD

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CHICAGO — Chicago police superintendent announced Thursday he will be retiring at the end of the year.

Back in March 2016, Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Johnson as the city's top cop, ignoring three candidates recommended by the police board. Johnson hadn’t even applied for the job.

At the time, there was turmoil in Chicago. Protesters were in the streets day and night, angry over the shooting death of Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer.

On that day, nearly four years ago, Johnson talked about the broken trust between police and the public.

Thursday, for the first time, he revealed his own experience.

“I had a family member killed by a Chicago police officer when I was a teenager,” he said. “I know what that feels like. I just never talked about it much because I don’t want to rip that band-aid for my cousin. So I’m acutely aware of the racial divide that’s been in this city for decades.”

Johnson spent part of his childhood in Cabrini Green and still remembers a cop wrongfully handcuffing his father.

Johnson said those life experiences caused him to keep an open door and invite in some of the department’s biggest critics.

It was why he chose to march arm-in-arm with protesters down the Dan Ryan.

But communication and protestation only go so far.

In Johnson’s first year as superintendent, 762 people were murdered in Chicago, 300 more than the previous year.

The nation took notice. And so did President Trump.

Johnson deployed technology to districts. Shot spotting cameras and predictive analytics meant to not only solve crimes but also anticipate violence.

He also beefed up the ranks, adding 1,000 new officers and 400 detectives.

Murder numbers are back down to where they were four years ago. But the department still struggles to catch killers. Half of the city’s murders go solved.

“The majority of our shootings and murders have a gang nexus,” Johnson said. “That population of people historically never talks to police.”

Johnson’s final weeks were marred by two controversies. The police union’s board gave him a no-confidence vote for skipping Trump's presidential speech and days earlier Johnson had been found slumped over in his vehicle late at night. He blamed a change in medication but later admitted to having a few drinks.

Johnson insists he first talked to the mayor about leaving in September. It was at one of many events he’s attended honoring the four officers killed in the line of duty last year while talking to their widows.

“Not only did I see pride in their faces but the pain of losing their husbands. But I also saw a reflection of their husbands’ faces,” he said. “So when I sat down, the mayor was sitting next to me. I whispered to her that night ‘We got to start talking about an end date for me.’”

When looking back at his career, Johnson said he wants to be remembered not for statistics.

“What I want them to say is when Eddie Johnson was superintendent those racial divides shrank,” he said.

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