Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson Announces Plans to Retire: ‘Time for Someone Else’

The announcement came days after Johnson, who is currently the center of an investigation, said he was considering retirement so he could spend more time with his family

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson on Thursday announced plans to retire from his post as the city's top cop after less than four years leading the department. 

"It's time for someone else to pin these four stars to their shoulders," an emotional Johnson said in a press conference. "These stars can sometimes feel like carrying the weight of the world, but I'm confident that I leave CPD in a better place than when I became superintendent." 

The announcement came days after Johnson, who is currently the center of an investigation, said he was considering retirement so he could spend more time with his family. 

Johnson said he had a revelation following a trip to London.

"We took a trip to London, following the Bears. They lost the game, but since I've been superintendent, we haven't had the chance to spend that kind of time together and it made me feel normal," Johnson said, gesturing to his family members gathered beside him.

"And I saw them, how they missed me in that kind of setting, and that's pretty much what did it," he continued, grabbing onto his young son. "This guy right here is my copilot and for him to call me and say, 'What time you coming home tonight? Just bring me a strawberry donut with sprinkles on it.' You know... it's time, it's time, it's time." 

Johnson acknowledged that being the city's top cop "has taken its toll."

"Taken a toll on my health, my family, my friends, but my integrity remains intact," he said. 

Neither Johnson nor Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot would address the investigation into an incident in which Johnson was found asleep behind the wheel of his car last month, only saying Thursday "we have to let the investigation run its course." 

Lightfoot said in October Johnson admitted to her that he "had a couple of drinks" before he was found.

Johnson initially said a change in medication triggered the incident and he felt "lightheaded" while driving, but Lightfoot later clarified during an interview with the Sun-Times that Johnson revealed "he had a couple of drinks with dinner." 

Johnson underwent successful kidney transplant surgery in 2017. His private health battle at the time became public in January 2017 when he almost fainted at a news conference after he said a reaction to blood sugar medication made him lightheaded. Johnson's donated kidney came from his son.

Johnson's career in the top spot began in 2016 when Mayor Rahm Emanuel controversially appointed him as the city's new Interim Superintendent despite Johnson not being on the list of three finalists approved by the Chicago Police Board. Emanuel rejected those finalists and asked the board to conduct a new search. He ultimately picked Johnson, Chicago's chief of patrol at the time.

A total of 38 individuals applied for the job after Emanuel fired Former Supt. Garry McCarthy in the wake of the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald by police officer Jason Van Dyke.

Chicago's City Council unanimously approved Johnson's appointment in April 2016.

"Rahm Emanuel saw something in me I didn't see in myself," Johnson said Thursday. "I led the nation's second largest police department ever since." 

Because of his experience as a Chicago police officer, Johnson was touted by Emanuel for his internal knowledge and ability to boost morale among officers. Aldermen said at the time CPD looked up to Johnson and considered him to be a well-respected leader in the department.

"He is Chicago through and through and his DNA is CPD," Emanuel said after learning of his retirement. "He can walk out of office head held high. Three years declining crime rates, three years of ever-improving reforms - a record to be proud of." 

Early last month, a long-secret, 6,500-page inspector general's report on McDonald's shooting suggested Johnson should have fired more officers on the scene the night of the shooting.

Johnson defended himself, saying that when the case was unfolding, he was a senior member of the department but "not involved in any superintendent-level decisions on discipline following uses of force." He said he was not in a position at the time to receive investigative updates.

Lightfoot followed that a show of a support for Johnson. "I have full faith and confidence in Eddie Johnson as the leader of the Chicago Police Department," she said in a statement.

"Over the years, I have spoken at length with Superintendent Johnson about the shooting of Laquan McDonald, the police response that night and the days after," Lightfoot said in the statement. "Based on these discussions and my knowledge from other sources, there is nothing that gives me pause about the Superintendent's conduct related to that tragic event."

A week later, Johnson was found slumped behind the wheel of his car after a motorist called 911, according to Chicago police. In a press conference, Johnson said that he was examined by responding officers, and that a breathalyzer test was not administered at the scene.

In a statement, a Chicago Police Department spokesman said the department couldn't confirm the superintendent’s admission, or comment, due to an internal investigation that the superintendent himself called for in the wake of the incident.

Johnson said that he began feeling lightheaded while he was driving home from dinner, and that he pulled over his vehicle near his South Side home at approximately 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 17.

A passing motorist called 911 to report a motorist asleep at the wheel of his vehicle, and CPD officers responded to the scene.

When officers arrived at the scene, they checked Johnson's well-being and "did not observe any signs of impairment," according to a press release from the police department on Thursday. 

Johnson ordered an internal investigation of the incident, citing the need for "transparency."

"Whether you are a police officer or a superintendent, all officers ought to be held to the highest standard," Johnson said through a spokesperson. 

Johnson said he had visited his neurologist that same day, and he confirmed the superintendent's elevated blood pressure. The doctor advised him to visit an emergency room as a precautionary measure, but Johnson instead attended the Chicago police board's hearing later that night. 

After the meeting, Johnson checked into an area hospital for observation, and he was released Oct. 18. 

Days later, Johnson was targeted by President Donald Trump, who criticized him and Chicago's violence in both a speech and subsequent tweets. 

Johnson publicly announced he would not attend Trump's speech to police chiefs in Chicago because he thought the "values of the people of Chicago are more important" than what Trump would say. 

"People like Johnson put criminals and illegal aliens before the citizens of Chicago, and those are his values and frankly those values to me are a disgrace," Trump told the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference.

"I want Eddie Johnson to change his values, and change them fast," he said. He then called Chicago's violence "embarrassing to us as a nation."

Johnson countered by saying the "national narrative that Chicago is a city on fire is just simply not true."

"Facts matter," he said, touting three years straight of "double digit reduction" in crime and noting that there are "17 neighborhoods in this city that are safer than Manhattan and LA."

"This president is known for doing a lot of talking about the city of Chicago, but if he's truly ready to roll up his sleeves to partner with us, so are we, as long as that partnership reflects who we are as Chicagoans," Johnson said.

Trump later tweeted the city's crime wave "will never stop" as long as Johnson is the police superintedent. 

Johnson is expected to stay in his role through the end of the year as the city works to find a replacement. 

"CPD needs strong leadership and I want the next top cop to continue making improvements to public safety and in the department that I love," he said.  

As for who might replace Johnson, there's been plenty of speculation. 

Former LA Police Chief Charlie Beck is expected to be named interim Chicago police superintendent, though the mayor's office would not confirm the move Thursday. Beck comes highly recommended by the law enforcement community, with former LAPD chief and NYC police commissioner Bill Bratton calling the decision a "good move." 

Beck has not confirmed if he would accept the position, but doing so would allow the police board to conduct its search for a permanent replacement. 

Lightfoot would not confirm the rumors Wednesday, saying she has not begun the process of looking for a replacement for Johnson. 

"I’ve seen a lot of speculation about different names, some of which are wildly offbase," she said at the time. 

Lightfoot acknowledged Thursday that Johnson "continues to have my unwavering confidence and support." 

"He took on a job he did not apply for at a time when our city could have come apart," she said. 

Johnson said he plans to simply "give myself a breather." 

"Maybe I'll come back as a reporter," he joked. 

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