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Morning Shift Podcast

Chicago Top Cop Eddie Johnson On Policing, Gaining Community Trust, And Trump

Chicago’s top cop says he’s feeling optimistic about 2018. 

That’s because the city saw fewer shootings this year compared to 2016, one of the most violent years since the 1990s that saw about 800 people killed.

“Certainly we’re not claiming success,” said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson on WBEZ’s Morning Shift. “But the fact that we’re a little bit over 20 percent down in overall shootings — and about 15 percent down in murders — is room for encouragement.”

In a conversation with Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia, Johnson discussed how police officers and city officials were able to bring homicides down this year, what strategies they’ve used, and President Donald Trump’s comments on Chicago violence. 

Here are some interview highlights. 

On President Trump’s negative comments about Chicago

Supt. Eddie Johnson: Those comments sometimes are a bit frustrating. And it’s not frustrating for the obvious reasons, it’s frustrating because that ignores the fact that we’re now 100 homicides down from last year, 700 shootings down. It ignores that. It ignores the hard work that the men and women of this department are doing to reduce this violence, and it also ignores the fact that these community members are stepping up to the plate and helping us to reduce the violence in their communities. And it also ignores the fact that the mayor has given us the resources we need to reduce violence. 

So that’s what I’ll say to that. And I don’t focus on what the rhetoric is from there, I focus on the positives and what we can do to make this city better.

On expanded use of police body cameras

Johnson: We rolled out the use of body-worn cameras a year ahead of schedule for the entire department that works in patrol. So those cameras help us to see what we’re doing right, where we can improve, and it increases the transparency in terms of what the police officers are out there doing. Because anytime they have contact for the most part with people in the public, they have to activate that camera. So that allows us to see.

And not only does it ensure our officers are doing what we want them to do, but it actually helps to change the behavior of the people that we serve, because when we tell them they’re being recorded — and I’ll tell you, it’s humorous when you see how their behavior changes when they know they’re being recorded.

Tony Sarabia: Give us an example.

Johnson: We’ll have people that are kind of belligerent, using bad language with the officer, until they realize they’re being recorded and then they tone down quite a bit. So, you know, it helps on both sides of the fence I think.

On the importance of community groups in counteracting violence

Johnson: I think it’s huge. Because that shows people that would commit these kind of crimes that not only are the police out there looking at what you’re doing, but the residents are out there, not afraid to take over the spaces that you normally would operate in. 

Because let’s face it, we’ll never get to a point where we have police officers on every corner. That’s why it’s so important for the communities that are suffering through these things to partner with the police, because the police simply cannot do this alone.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. It was adapted for the web by producer Justin Bull. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation.

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