CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago City Council panel voted Tuesday to temporarily change the selection process for police superintendent so Mayor Rahm Emanuel can avoid the usual procedures and appoint a longtime member of the department as its next leader.
The council's Committee on Public Safety recommended a change in the municipal code so that Emanuel can name Interim Superintendent Eddie Johnson the next superintendent instead of picking from a list of finalists given to him by the city's police board. The committee also was considering whether to recommend Johnson for the job, and a vote from the full council was expected Wednesday.
The release of an explosive 2014 video of a white officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing him, prompted Emanuel to fire Superintendent Garry McCarthy. But rather than pick a successor from three finalists recommended by the police board — two African American men and a white woman — Emanuel opted for Johnson.
Some council members urged for Johnson to be appointed as quickly as possible because of the city's violent crime problem. They dismissed the suggestion by one alderman that changing — even temporarily — a process that has been in place for more than a half century would be a troubling and perhaps dangerous precedent.
"We don't have time to play," Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. said during Tuesday's debate. "People are dying in our wards."
Johnson is seen as a popular choice as an African American and a 27-year department veteran. His rise within the force stands in stark contrast with the previous two superintendents, McCarthy and Jody Weis, both of whom are white and came from other law enforcement agencies.
McCarthy, who spent the bulk of his career with the New York Police Department before becoming chief in Newark, New Jersey, followed Weis, who took over the force after a long career with the FBI. Neither was popular within the force and many in the city were hoping that the mayor would select an African American who is already a member of the department.
While community leaders, aldermen and members of the department have praised Johnson, Emanuel came under fire for pushing to change the code rather than follow the normal procedures.
"The mayor didn't like the outcome and disregarded the process," Alderman Scott Waguespack said Tuesday before the meeting. "We understand the mayor wants this person to carry through on his policies but there is also time to do it the right way."
He also suggested that the way Johnson is being pushed through by the mayor is contrary to the mayor's pledge for more transparency in the way he runs his office and the way the department operates that the public demanded in the wake of the McDonald video.
Alderman Proco Joe Moreno called Johnson a "fantastic pick" while agreeing that the way the mayor and council are pushing him for the job might cause some to think the selection process is "another inside Chicago deal."
"In this case you want someone in there who can tackle the problems from day one, and the process we had failed us," he said.
This story has been corrected to reflect the alderman's last name is spelled Waguespack, not Waguespak