CHICAGO (CBS) — As aldermen were taking the first official steps to overhaul the way police shootings and allegations of police misconduct are investigated on Wednesday, one officer who was being attacked on the West Side was holding her fire, for fear of the potential scrutiny, Chicago’s top cop said Thursday.
At the city’s annual Police Department and Fire Department awards ceremony at City Hall on Thursday, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson related the story of three officers who were injured when a “simple traffic accident” turned violent.
As an example of when the pressure cops are under amid increased scrutiny over police shootings, Johnson said a female officer and her partner were on patrol in the Austin neighborhood when they witnessed a crash, and tried to help one of the victims, who became combative, apparently under the influence of drugs.
“A subject who was under the influence of PCP attacked the female officer, viciously pounded her head into the street as her partner was trying to get him off of her. This attack went on for several minutes,” Johnson said.
A Police Department spokesperson said the incident happened around 10 a.m. Wednesday near Cicero and Roosevelt. The female officer and two other officers were injured while taking the man into custody. Johnson visited the 43-year-old female officer in the hospital Wednesday night.
“She looked at me and said she thought she was going to die, and she knew that she should shoot this guy, but she chose not to because she didn’t want her family or the department to have to go through the scrutiny the next day on national news,” he said.
Johnson said the nation needs to change the narrative that has police officers second-guessing themselves in that way.
The superintendent said, despite the increased national focus on police shootings over the last year, Chicago police officers still come to work every day “and give their all, not knowing if they’ll go back home at night.”
“This officer could have lost her life last night. She’s hospitalized right now, but she still has the spirit and the bravery that these officers and firefighters display every day; every day,” he said. “These individuals come to work day in and day out and they give their lives for the city of Chicago every day without hesitation, and I have to tell you I am proud and still humbled to be a leader of a great department like the Chicago Police Department. So thank you all in advance for what you do.”
The attack Johnson spoke about happened as the City Council was meeting to vote on the first two steps in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s effort to overhaul police oversight in Chicago.
Aldermen on Wednesday approved the creation of the Civilian Office on Police Accountability (COPA) to replace the much-maligned Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), and a new deputy inspector general for public safety, who will audit the new accountability system, recommend changes to the police contract, and monitor the police force for potential patterns and practices that violate civil rights.
The Emanuel administration has yet to work out the details of the third part step in changing police oversight, the creation of a civilian board that will appoint a permanent boss for COPA. Until that new board is created, IPRA chief administrator Sharon Fairley will serve as the interim chief at COPA.