Mayor Rahm Emanuel has rejected three finalists recommended by the Chicago police board for the city’s top police post and selected the force’s current chief of patrol as the new interim police superintendent, City Council officials said Sunday.
Emanuel is trying to replace Superintendent Garry McCarthy whose firing was part of a frantic effort to regain trust in the Police Department and his own leadership following the release in November of dash-camera footage showing a white police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager 16 times.
Alderman Anthony Beale said the mayor’s office called him Saturday to inform him that Emanuel has selected Chicago Chief of Patrol Eddie Johnson as interim superintendent. Johnson, who is African-American and a 27-year veteran of the force, was not among the board’s recommendations. A former commander of the Gresham police district on the South Side, Johnson was promoted to deputy chief of patrol in 2012 and chief of patrol in December.
“While I supported the nomination of Gene Williams, I believe Eddie Johnson is equally suited to lead the Chicago Police Department and I support Mayor Emanuel’s decision,” said Beale, a former chairman of the City Council’s police committee. “Eddie Johnson knows Chicago, he knows the police department and the challenges facing our neighborhoods. He is a true leader and will bring the fundamental changes CPD needs right now. I look forward to getting to work with Eddie right away.”
Whoever leads the Chicago Police Department will take over during a time of immense turmoil marked by protests over police shootings. In one of the more high-profile cases, officer Jason Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder in the 2014 shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, which was captured on squad-car video and has prompted investigations, including a federal civil rights probe of the Police Department.
Anabel Abarca, a spokeswoman for Alderman George Cardenas, a prominent member of the Chicago City Council’s Latino caucus, also told AP Sunday that Emanuel reached out to the alderman with news of Johnson’s selection. Cardenas and Hispanics on the council had expressed frustration that the police board had passed over current Interim Superintendent John Escalante, who is Hispanic and has been running the department since McCarthy’s firing. Escalante has said he applied for the job. The AP emailed Escalante’s spokesman asking for his comment, but did not get a reply Sunday.
Emanuel’s spokeswoman Kelley Quinn declined to comment on whether Johnson is the mayor’s pick, but said he has made a decision and has informed the three nominees. She said Emanuel would announce his decision within days.
“While each of the finalists had strong qualifications, the mayor did not feel that any of them were the complete package that Chicago needs at this time and thus none were offered the position,” Quinn said. “The mayor called each of them individually late Saturday to let them know of his decision.”
A city ordinance allows Emanuel to appoint an interim chief and ask the police board for a new list of finalists.
One of the board’s initial nominees, Cedric Alexander, told AP on Sunday that Emanuel offered him the job on Thursday during a meeting in Washington, D.C., and that the mayor told him he intended to make Johnson his first deputy. But he said Emanuel phoned him Saturday night to say he had changed his mind.
“He did offer me the position in D.C. on Thursday, and last night he called and said he’s going in a different direction,” said Alexander, the public safety director in Georgia’s DeKalb County. NBC5 in Chicago first reported that Alexander said he’d been offered the position.
Alexander told AP the plan had been for him to fly to Chicago on Monday and that the announcement was to have come Wednesday.
“I would like to thank the Chicago Police Board for giving me the opportunity to apply,” Alexander said. “Clearly the mayor is going in another direction, and I would just like to wish the very best for the people of Chicago.”
The Chicago City Council’s black caucus said last week that they would prefer a local African-American for the job. But they stopped short of endorsing Eugene Williams, a black deputy chief in Chicago who was among the police board recommendations. Anne Kirkpatrick, a white former police chief in Spokane, Washington, also was a finalist.
On Sunday, Police Board President Lori E. Lightfoot said the board “has not received formal communication” from the mayor regarding the nominees it submitted for the position. “The board will be taking no action until it receives such notification,” she said, adding that the board would have “no further comment.”