CHICAGO — Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announced his retirement Thursday after 31 years on the force and more than three years as top officer of the nation's second-largest police department.
"It’s time for someone else to pin these four stars to their shoulders. These stars can sometimes feel like carrying the weight of the world. But I’m confident that I leave CPD better," Johnson said at an emotionally-charged press conference, surrounded by family and holding back tears. "This job has taken its toll — taken a toll on my health, my family, my friends. But my integrity remains intact."
The news may not be a surprise to Chicagoans: Johnson told reporters earlier this week that he was considering retirement, saying the position had been a "sacrifice" for his family. During his tenure, Johnson grappled with gun violence in the city, high-profile scandals, frequent criticism from the White House and his own life-threatening kidney disease.
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The announcement comes amid an investigation into why Johnson, 59, was found asleep behind the wheel of his SUV at a stop sign last month. Johnson called for the investigation of himself, attributing the cause to a change in his blood pressure medication. Mayor Lori Lightfoot later told the Chicago Sun-Times that Johnson said he had "a couple of drinks with dinner" that same night.
"We have to let the investigation run its course," Lightfoot said at the press conference.
She said Johnson would continue to serve as police chief through the end of the year. It was not immediately clear who would replace Johnson.
"Superintendent Johnson will end his service standing on a record of reform and progress that will be felt long after his retirement," Lightfoot said.
During a press conference Friday, Light announced the appointment of former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck as interim superintendent. She said that the department was still searching for a permanent replacement.
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Johnson grew up in the Cabrini Green public housing project on the city's Near North Side and later moved to the South Side.
"Like too many children in Chicago, I experienced the trauma of gun violence firsthand. I also saw how those who are sworn to protect our city instead relied on prejudice and intimidation," Johnson said. "I wanted to keep Chicago safe. This is my home, and it’s the only home I’ve ever known."
Initially a pre-med student, Johnson joined the police department in 1988. He was appointed to superintendent in 2016 by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had fired Superintendent Garry McCarthy following the release of police dashcam video of white officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting black teen Laquan McDonald.
"This tragedy forever changed Chicago," Johnson said. In 2016, trust in law enforcement was low, and the city's homicide rate peaked at a level Chicago hadn’t seen since the mid-1990s, Johnson said.
In early 2017, a Department of Justice investigation concluded that the CPD was beset by widespread racial bias, excessive use of force, poor training and feckless oversight of officers accused of misconduct.
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Just last month, Johnson garnered criticism when he decided to boycott President Trump's speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference over the president's immigration policy and his past comments about people of color. The move pushed Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police board to issue a vote of no confidence in Johnson.
"Chicago will never stop its crime wave with the current Superintendent of Police. It just won't happen!" Trump later tweeted.
Johnson said Trump distorted conditions in a city where the crime rate is falling. "The national narrative that Chicago is a city on fire is simply not true," he said.
Lightfoot commended Johnson's decision on Thursday, saying "he showed the president what true leadership and character look like."
In Johnson's time as superintendent, the number of shootings and homicides in Chicago have fallen by double-digit percentages each year. Police-involved shootings are at their lowest levels in a decade, down 80% from 2009, Johnson said. This past summer, murders were down 41% compared to the summer of 2016. Robberies, burglaries and auto-thefts are at 20-years lows, according to Johnson.
Beyond the reductions in crime, Johnson said changes to department curriculum have been among his greatest accomplishments.
"One of the most significant achievements of the last three years has been mandating a continuing education curriculum for every officer," Johnson said.
Under Johnson, the department also revised its curriculum to address mental health crises, implicit bias, and more.
Three organization that partnered with the CPD to reduce gun violence in the city – Chicago CRED, Communities Partnering 4 Peace and READI Chicago – thanked Johnson for his service and encouraged Lightfoot to select a new police chief that prioritizes community engagement.
"Under Supt. Johnson, Chicago police began a culture shift toward improving community-police relationships," the groups said in a press release. "We urge Mayor Lightfoot to build upon this legacy of community engagement in her search for the next superintendent."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson to retire after 3 years