Groundhog day: Why bother applying to be top Chicago cop?

Thirty-nine eight-page applications, nine interviews and some 200 hours worth of research and deliberation went into the Chicago Police Board’s hunt for the next police superintendent.

But when the Chicago police board process—described by a source close to the board—was all done, of course, it was a waste of time. And there is a strong hint of deja vu.

A half century ago, following an earlier scandal that blackened the reputation of the Chicago police, Mayor Richard J. Daley relied on an outside committee to conduct a search of potential new superintendents to bring needed change. And in the end, none of the candidates won the job.

Investigations that expose, influence and inform. Emailed directly to you.


Then in 2007, following the indictment of six police officers in yet another corruption scandal, Mayor Richard M. Daley rejected his board’s first three recommendations for police superintendent and recommended instead that the committee look at outsider Jody Weis, an FBI agent whom the board had not formally recommended.

So perhaps  it should have come as no surprise last week when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he was appointing Eddie Johnson—a 27-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department and former commander of the South Side’s Gresham District—as interim police superintendent, even though Johnson not only was not one of the three candidates recommended by the police board; he had never even applied for the job.

A source close to the board told Injustice Watch that Emanuel’s pick of Johnson was a “smack in the face” to the board after its extensive efforts to screen candidates.  The source added, “It doesn’t really matter who’s in the top three. The mayor chooses who he wants.”

After Emanuel announced his choice last week, protesters who took to the streets were focused less on Johnson’s qualifications than on the process.  “A corrupt process produces a corrupt result,” said activist Gregory Livingston, among a small group that gathered outside the Chicago police headquarters last Tuesday. “For the mayor to say, ‘Here’s my pick; now police board, you pick my pick’—that’s bad.”

Bad or not, it has a ring of familiarity. In 2007, Mayor Richard M. Daley rejected the finalists recommended by a committee following a month-long nationwide search, and instead announced he favored Jody Weis, then the special agent in charge of the Philadelphia office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The Washington Post quoted Jamie Kalvan, who has long monitored police misconduct in Chicago: “He seems like an interesting choice, but what’s really striking is how the choice was made.

“It was not a product of the selection process we thought was unfolding. The mayor had his own process and made his own choice. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad choice, but it underscores that Daley exercises a monarch’s power.”

Decades earlier, his father had similarly chosen a superintendent from outside those who applied and were screened by a  committee.  In those days, it was a band of cops committing burglaries that prompted Daley to recruit Orlando W. Wilson, the renowned criminologist at the University of California, to head a committee to screen applicants. In the end, the committee ended up recommending that Daley forget about the applicants and  choose Wilson himself as the next superintendent.

Though not everyone was convinced that the process was so pristine. Fourteenth Ward alderman Joseph P. Burke claimed to have overheard a phone conversation between Wilson and the superintendent of the House of Corrections, Fred K. Hoehler, during which Hoehler guaranteed Wilson the superintendency—all Wilson had to do was conduct a search for candidates in order to appease the public, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Then-State’s Attorney Ben Adamowski called it “the biggest fraud ever pulled on the people of Chicago.”