So, Eddie Johnson, superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, says he will give it a miss on Monday when President Trump addresses a gathering of police chiefs in the Windy City. “The values of the people of Chicago are more important than anything that he would have to say,” Johnson’s spokesman said in explaining the planned absence.
We’ll return to Johnson in a bit, but first I digress into a tale from my years working for the Los Angeles Police Department. It was my misfortune to be promoted to sergeant during a tumultuous time in the LAPD, when Bernard Parks was the department’s chief and seemed bent on destroying it from within with his autocratic style of management. The department’s leaders seemed more concerned with investigating petty personnel complaints than they were with fighting crime, and many, many officers, frustrated with the bureaucratic quagmire the LAPD became, left to work for other departments or abandoned police work altogether.
Of all the petty complaints I was aware of, one stands out as an example of the stupidity that seemed to grip so many in the management levels of the LAPD at the time. For officers working the day watch, who hit the streets at around seven a.m., it was a common practice (and still is) to leave roll call and proceed directly to their favored breakfast spot for a bite, thus ensuring a full stomach before the radio got busy and opportunities for a meal break became scarce. And though the LAPD manual dictates that officers remain in their division of assignment, it was (and still is) common practice for cops to cross-divisional boundaries or even city limits in search of a good breakfast burrito or stack of pancakes. Everyone did it, with the understanding that if you were assigned a call while you were eating, you paid your bill and went to handle it.
Despite the ubiquity of this practice, a lieutenant at my station lodged a complaint against an officer for having engaged in it. The officer, against whom the lieutenant held a grudge, had gone to a restaurant three blocks inside an adjacent division and was eating breakfast when he was assigned an emergency call. He dutifully left the restaurant and broadcast that he was responding to the call with lights and siren, but gave his originating location as the divisional boundary rather than the restaurant.
The lieutenant, I was told, was gleeful that he had caught the officer in a violation of policy and initiated the complaint, word of which reached the sergeants on the watch, myself among them. What followed may help explain why I did not promote beyond the rank of sergeant in more than 30 years with the LAPD. I explained to the lieutenant that if we were going to initiate complaints on anyone who took a meal break outside the division, we should begin cutting paper on every officer on the watch, every sergeant, and, yes, the lieutenant himself, for he regularly ate at the very same restaurant (and never once picked up the tab). If he was so eager to discipline the cop he disliked, I said, perhaps it should be for a violation every cop, every sergeant, and he himself did not commit at least once a week.
In the end, wiser heads in the chain of command prevailed and the complaint was shredded, as was my working relationship with the lieutenant. I did not lament the loss.
Returning now to Eddie Johnson and the state of affairs at the Chicago Police Department. Johnson’s choice to absent himself from President Trump’s speech is being hailed in some quarters as a principled stand against the president’s rhetorical excesses, but in reality, it’s nothing more than a cheap political gesture in a city that voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. (It’s interesting to note that the only Chicago neighborhood to vote for Trump in 2016, Mount Greenwood, on the South Side, is among the safest in an otherwise very violent city. Make of that what you will.)
There is also the possibility that Johnson’s snub of the president is an attempt to cloak himself with some cheap grace at a time he may be needing it. At about 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 17, Johnson was found passed out in the driver’s seat of his car while stopped at a Chicago intersection. Johnson attributed his condition to a change in his blood pressure medication, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Johnson later admitted to her he had had “a couple of drinks with dinner.”
Johnson was allowed to drive home without being evaluated for intoxication, this after senior officers including a captain came to the scene, and one cannot help but wonder if some lowly patrol officer would have been extended the same courtesy. Johnson later made the laughable claim that he would have the matter investigated by the internal affairs bureau, whose officers of course report to him. On Monday, Mayor Lightfoot announced that the police department’s inspector general would conduct the investigation. But let’s face it: it’s Chicago, so no one expects anything to happen to Johnson unless Lightfoot decides to cut him loose.
It’s Johnson’s right, of course, to skip the president’s speech, but doing so demonstrates the divide that exists in most cities between police managers, who spend their days in offices, and police officers, who spend their days in squad cars and on foot beats. Johnson, like police chiefs in any large city you can name, is obliged to hew to the leftist notions of his political master, perhaps because of sincere beliefs but maybe for simple reasons of ambition. And he surely knows most of his cops, all those lowly drudges out there doing actual police work, most of them voted for Trump in 2016 and will do so again next year. But it is not their opinions that concern him but rather that of Mayor Lightfoot, at whose pleasure he serves for as long as she considers him useful. On Wednesday, the executive board of the city’s police union voted “no confidence” in Johnson, but this is unlikely to influence Lightfoot, whose contempt for the union is well known.
And now that Johnson has announced his intention to snub President Trump, it will be interesting to see if other police chiefs, most of whom answer to leftist politicians, do the same. And what kind of reception will the president receive from those who choose to attend? The applause in the room will likely be polite but subdued, but the cops watching from home, they will be cheering loudly.