by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) — As rumors swirled that he’ll soon retire, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson acknowledged Monday that he’s given it some thought recently, but the city’s top cop did not confirm that he’s planning to step down.

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“I’ve been toying with it for some time,” Johnson said Monday at City Hall. “I love this job, I love this city. I have given 31 years now to this city, and almost four as superintendent. You know, but I recognize also that at some point it’s time to create a different chapter in your life.”

The superintendent said the first time he thought about possibly retiring after more than 31 years on the force was while attending the Chicago Bears game against the Oakland Raiders in early October.

“That’s the first vacation like that that I’ve had since I became superintendent, and I looked at my family and it made me realize how much of a sacrifice you make,” Johnson said.

Johnson noted he took over as superintendent at a tumultuous time for the department. Public trust in the department was in tatters after the release of video showing the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, morale at the department was “a mess,” and murders in 2016 were surging to levels Chicago hadn’t seen in 20 years.

“We had activists trying to chain themselves to the door of Police Headquarters, and now those same people are partnering with us to make this city better. Now, are we where we want to be? No, we’re not, but I think we’ve made significant progress,” he said.

The superintendent’s comments come amid a Chicago Inspector General’s office investigation into an incident in which he was found slumped over in his car, but Johnson said he’s not concerned about the probe, and said it has nothing to do with why he’s contemplating retirement.

Johnson was found asleep behind the wheel of his SUV early on Oct. 17, after he had gone out for dinner with a group of friends the night before. The superintendent blamed the incident on a mix-up in which he failed to take his blood pressure medication, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot later revealed Johnson had admitted to her in a phone call that he’d had “a couple of drinks with dinner” that night.

Hours after the incident, Johnson requested an investigation by the Internal Affairs Division, citing the need for transparency. Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson later took over the investigation.

Johnson’s comments about possible retirement came during a break in the annual Chicago Police Department budget hearing at City Hall, where he told aldermen that he job has been a stressful one, and thanked the city of Chicago for trusting him to lead the department for the past 3.5 years.

Calling himself “a Chicago guy through and through,” Johnson said he’s been proud to serve as a police officer on the same streets where he grew up.

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“Being superintendent has taken a toll on my health, and it’s brought me to tears at time, but this job has also made me smile and laugh and see the good in people,” Johnson said Monday morning at the department’s annual budget hearing at City Hall.

Johnson has had a series of health issues since taking the top post at CPD. In June, he was treated for a small blood clot that was found in his lung during a routine test, and in 2017 he received a kidney transplant from his son, months after falling ill at a news conference. He’s been battling kidney disease for more than 30 years.

Ethical questions for Johnson over the past few weeks have led to questions about his future, and growing rumors that he will soon retire, but the superintendent made no mention of any plans to step down as he and his command staff briefed aldermen on CPD’s budget plan for 2020.

“It’s difficult to describe what’s required of the job of superintendent until you have it. Every decision is questioned; every decision has consequences. It’s a somewhat stressful job, but it helps to remember the good people living on every block, and in every neighborhood in the city of Chicago,” he said. “I think of the smiling faces I see while at community policing events. It’s always a good day when I get to go out and flip burgers or play softball with neighborhood kids or the beat cops that patrol their neighborhoods.”

Johnson received several plaudits from aldermen as he discussed the city’s budget plans for 2020, and a continuing drop in violent crime in Chicago. The superintendent noted murders and shootings both have dropped for three years in a row, and are on pace to drop for a fourth consecutive year in 2019.

Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) said the city is “definitely headed in the right direction” in its efforts to reduce violent crime.

“I can’t say enough for what you and your staffers have done, and the 13,300 men and women that are serving the community. It’s easy to say it should have been this, it should have been that,” Reboyras said. “The fact is that it’s easy to criticize. It’s easy to say, ‘I would have done this.’ You can’t say that, because you almost have to put yourself in that police officer’s uniform, and how would you react when you get a call for service?”

The superintendent said murders are down 11% so far this year compared to 2018; shootings are down 10 percent; and robberies, burglaries, and motor vehicle thefts are at 20-year lows.


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Megan Hickey