Chicago’s Top Cop Says Justice Department Threatens Public Safety | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

Chicago’s Top Cop Says Justice Department Threatens Public Safety

The U.S. Department of Justice would be “playing with public safety” if it withheld federal grant money over immigration rules, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Monday.

Johnson spoke with Morning Shift host Jenn White about a lawsuit the city filed against the Justice Department. The city claims new federal rules that require cities to notify federal authorities of undocumented immigrants in their custody are unconstitutional.

“We’re just not going to do that,” Johnson said. “We’ve never been involved in immigration protocols and we won’t do it now.”

Here are some highlights from Johnson's conversation with Morning Shift:

On the Chicago Police Department’s current immigration policy

Eddie Johnson: If we happen to arrest someone, we don’t ask them their immigration status, because for us it’s really not germane to what we do. We arrest them for the incident that they’ve committed and we move forward with that.

If there is a case where that person has a warrant on file, or something of that nature, and immigration is looking for them, then if we have a reason to hold them and [the Justice Department finds] out that that warrant is being held in Chicago, then so be it. But we don’t actively do anything as far as immigration.

On why city is choosing to sue 

Those funds that we get through the [Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant]  are critical to our daily operational needs. We utilize that money to buy vehicles, equipment, radios, computers, things like that for the officers. It’s essential that we get those funds and I just think it’s unfair to hold us hostage to force us to do something in terms of immigration because they’re playing with public safety when they do that.

On why the Justice Department's demands “will not help support” CPD’s reform efforts

We have to face that fact that our trust with the community that we serve in certain parts of the city has been fractured. We’re working very hard to rebuild that trust and most notably in the African-American and Hispanic communities. This will not help support that effort.

Community policing for us is a philosophy and I expect every officer out there to engage the public because we are a part of the communities that we serve. So when you say that we have to, at first, ask people their immigration status and when people are undocumented, do you think they’re going to come forward and give us the information that we need to solve some of these crimes? The answer is no because they are afraid of getting deported. So that’s why it’s so critical that this not be mixed in together.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click play above to hear the whole interview.

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