Skip to contents

Top Cop Eddie Johnson Is Retiring From Chicago Police Department

Johnson, handpicked by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2016, helmed the department during a tumultuous time. He's currently under investigation after being found asleep in his car last month.

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson.
Anthony Guglielmi/Twitter
  • Credibility:

DOWNTOWN — Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, who ran the Chicago Police Department for more than three years under two mayors, is retiring.

Johnson, 60, hinted he’d retire last week in talks with reporters, but he made the move official with an announcement Thursday morning. Mayor Lori Lightfoot was at his side.

Johnson, who held back tears during the announcement, will stay on through the end of the year and will help his replacement transition into the role.

It’s “time for someone else to pin these four stars to their shoulders,” he said as his family stood at his side. “I’m confident that I leave CPD in a better place than when I became superintendent.”

Lightfoot has not yet said who she favors to take over the post, though she’s reportedly met with at least one person: Charlie Beck, the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

As he announced his retirement, Lightfoot praised Johnson, reminding listeners he’d refused to work with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to “rip apart” immigrant and refugee families, marched with the Rev. Michael Pfleger on the Day Ryan Expressway to protest violence and refused to stand with President Donald Trump at a recent conference.

“He took on a job he did not apply for at a time when the city could have come apart,” Lightfoot said. “Chicago is better because Supt. Eddie Johnson calls our great city ‘home.'”

Johnson was handpicked by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to take over the Chicago Police Department in March 2016. Emanuel had just fired Garry McCarthy in the wake of massive protests over the death of Laquan McDonald, a black teen shot dead by a white Chicago Police officer.

Johnson didn’t want the job, city hall sources told DNAinfo at the time, and he told reporters he didn’t apply for it.

But Emanuel rejected three candidates nominated for the position by the Chicago Police Board, named Johnson interim superintendent and asked the board to draw up a new list of candidates — one that would include Johnson so he could be officially named to the spot. His nomination was eventually unanimously approved by the City Council.

The department was beset by issues when Johnson took over: It’d come under national scrutiny after the release of a video showing McDonald’s slaying, shootings surged in 2016 and more than 730 people were murdered, and the city’s crime was routinely brought up by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Shootings have fallen under Johnson’s tenure, and the department has made steps toward reform and hired detectives.

But Johnson has also faced health issues. He fainted at a press conference in 2017 and received a kidney transplant from his son. Earlier in 2019, doctors found a blood clot in his lung.

And in October, Johnson was found asleep in a car. Lightfoot said Johnson had told her he’d had a few drinks at dinner, and the incident was put under investigation by the inspector general’s office.

The two refused to discussion that investigation during Thursday’s announcement, with Lightfoot saying it would be inappropriate since the review is ongoing and neither she nor Johnson wants to influence it.

Johnson said his family has long encouraged him to retire, in part because of his health issues. But he also wants to spend more time with his wife and three children, including his young son. The boy would often call his dad to ask what time he’d be home — and to ask for a strawberry doughnut with sprinkles, Johnson joked.

There were two moments that cemented Johnson’s decision, he said.

Earlier this year, Johnson was at a police memorial when he spoke with the widows of three officers who were killed. As he spoke with them, he saw pride in their faces — but also pain, he said.

Afterward, as Johnson and Lightfoot sat by a waterfall, he leaned over to Lightfoot and told her, “We need to start talking about an end date for me.”

“Losing those officers is hard,” Johnson said, his face red as he tried not to weep. “That’s when I started thinking about it.”

And when Johnson went to London for a Bears game this fall, he said he felt normal and realized how much his family missed him. It was his only vacation in three and a half years as superintendent, Johnson said.

“I can’t keep punishing them,” he said before wrapping an arm around his youngest son. “It’s time. It’s time.”

Johnson grew up in Cabrini-Green before moving to Washington Heights as a child. He went to college and started as a beat cop in 1988, eventually being promoted to the 6th District commander in 2008 and chief of patrol in 2012.

Johnson has three children; Daniel, the son who gave Johnson a kidney, was sworn in as a Chicago Police officer in 2018.

Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Want to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation? Thanks to NewsMatch 2019, your donation will be doubled through Dec. 31. Donate here.