Police superintendent promises more officers for 16th District
by BRIAN NADIG
Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson at a June 23 community meeting promised to assign more officers to the 16th (Jefferson Park) Police District and to give district commanders more discretion in organizing their community policing departments.
About 100 people, including many off-duty police officers who live in the area, attended the 70-minute meeting, which Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) hosted at Taft High School. “I wish more people were here. I know we get more complaints than this,” Napolitano said.
“Everyone in the city has the right to feel safer in their neighborhoods,” Johnson said. “I’ve committed to giving you more police as the year goes on.”
Information on the number of additional officers for the district was not available at the meeting, but Johnson said that it would be a mix of “veterans who know the lay of the land” and “younger, aggressive officers.” The 16th District has about 190 officers compared to about 270 in the early 2000s.
Johnson also reported that he is giving district commanders the authority increase their community policing staffs. Several years ago each district was ordered to reduce its community policing department from two sergeants and about eight officers to one sergeant and two officers in an effort to deploy more police on the street.
“With things like that, you can’t have a cookie-cutter approach,” Johnson said. The best way to fight crime can vary by district, and commanders should have some discretion in how they use their personnel, he said.
Johnson also addressed a recent video showing an officer kicking a suspect in the head after the man reached for the neck of another officer, who was trying to handcuff the suspect while the two were on the ground. The Independent Police Review Authority is reviewing the incident.
“He was protecting his partner,” Johnson said of the officer’s actions.
Johnson said that he could not comment further on the matter due to the pending investigation but that there are procedures in place which instruct officers in how to best subdue a suspect and that he “has the back” of any officer who makes an honest mistake. “Intentional misconduct is quite different,” he said.
Johnson said that over a long time mistrust has built up between the police department and African-American and Hispanic communities and that he has been talking with “a lot of activists,” including those whom he may disagree with. He said that Chicago has not experienced the recent riots which have occurred in some cities because the department is meeting with community leaders.
One resident asked Johnson about what can be done about the low morale in the police department.
Johnson said that the change in leadership in the department, new laws which address officer conduct and the press coverage of the Laquan McDonald shooting video created a lot of confusion among officers earlier in the year but that things are returning to normal.
Johnson said that while the number of murders in the city is up from last year in Chicago, the murder rate remains significantly lower from about 30 years ago and that about 1,400 people are responsible for a significant portion of the violence in the city. “We know who these individuals are, but we can’t just pluck these people off the street because there’s something called the Constitution.”
It also was reported that the department is bringing back the “officer-friendly” program to the schools, which is intended to familiarize children with law enforcement. Johnson said that since he was appointed to the superintendent’s post 3 months ago, he has received numerous requests for the program, which was popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
Also at the meeting, concerns were raised about panhandling near CTA transit centers and expressway exit ramps.
16th District commander William Looney said that the during the first few months of this year a sergeant and two officers were assigned to address homeless and panhandling issues in the district and that efforts were made to connect these individuals with social service agencies. Those officers are on bike patrol during the summer, he said.
“Panhandling is not illegal, but aggressive panhandling is,” Looney said. “A lot of these are professional panhandlers, and it’s too lucrative for them. They’re not going to leave.”
It also was reported that a man who was recently killed in an incident outside of Chicago is being investigated in connection with an armed robbery in April at Happy Foods, 6783 N. Northwest Highway.
It also was announced that the district will hold its “National Night Out” celebration from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2, at Norwood Park, 5801 N. Natoma Ave. A family swim, a blood drive and an antique car show are among the scheduled activities.