by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) — Amid reports Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson will soon announce plans to retire, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday declined to speculate on who she might seek to succeed him as the city’s top cop.
“First of all, we only have one superintendent, and he’s still here,” Lightfoot said at an unrelated event in Morgan Park. “When the time comes, and he is gone, then it is appropriate for me to have that conversation, but we’re not there yet.”
Sources have told CBS 2’s Brad Edwards that Johnson will announce a date when he plans to retire within the week.
The mayor said, although she and Johnson have discussed the Police Department’s plans for 2020, they have not discussed his plans to retire, although she has asked him if he has “enough gas in the tank” to take on that challenge.
“He’s still here. We haven’t had that conversation yet. When we have that conversation, then there will be something to say,” she said. “As soon as we make an announcement, then we’ll look at it, but I want to make sure that we’re doing honor and respect to [Johnson] and to the Police Department, because that announcement hasn’t come yet.”
When that announcement does come, Lightfoot said she would follow the standard process of selecting a new superintendent, a process former Mayor Rahm Emanuel bypassed to appoint Johnson in 2016. The Chicago Police Board is tasked with conducting a national search for a new superintendent whenever there is a vacancy, and giving the mayor a list of candidates to choose from.
Emanuel rejected the nominees the Police Board sent him in 2016, and instead appointed Johnson — who didn’t initially apply for the job — without having the Police Board — which Lightfoot chaired at the time — go through the hiring process a second time, as normally required. Instead, Johnson and the City Council temporarily changed the rules to put Johnson in the job.
Lightfoot said she has no intention of bypassing the Police Board to pick Johnson’s replacement.
“The Police Board process is mandated, by law. I’m not going to violate the law,” she said. “Having led the last search for a superintendent, I believe in respecting the law and the Police Board process. So when and if we get to that point, of course I will follow the law, and I will follow the Police Board process.”
The mayor also disputed a report that she is scheduled to meet Friday with former Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck about taking over for Johnson after he steps down.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, a meeting with Charlie Beck. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of speculation about different names, some of which are wildly off-base, but as I said, we have a superintendent who is in place, and when the time comes to make an announcement, we’ll make that announcement,” Lightfoot said.
As to possible candidates for the interim job, Edwards reported late Wednesday that First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio’s name is out there. He is recognizable and his position could place him as heir apparent, but Edwards is told Riccio is not on the mayor’s A-list.
Current CPD Chief Barbara West’s name is also out there. She is described as likable and very intelligent, and she was spotted at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon.
As to Beck, sources do tell Edwards that he is the likely pick to take over in the interim – but only if he wants it. And an interim will only serve while a major search goes on and until a new superintendent is picked.
Johnson earlier this week acknowledged he recently has given some thought to retiring, but did not confirm he’s planning to step down soon.
“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 said maximizing his pension benefits won’t be a factor in his decision about retirement. Johnson’s pension would be 75% of the highest-paid four years of his last 10 years on the force – which would mean three and a half years of his superintendent’s salary of $260,004 and six months of his prior and somewhat lower chief’s salary of $185,364.
He would have to make it to May 1, 2020 to get a full four years as superintendent, which sources said “he won’t.”
Speculation about Johnson’s possible retirement comes 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.