Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson on Thursday announced he is retiring after nearly four years as the city’s top cop and more than three decades with the police force.
“It would be disingenuous if I didn’t say this job has taken its toll,” Johnson, standing beside his family, said during a news conference. “But my integrity remains intact and I’m proud of what the department has accomplished during my tenure.”
Johnson will continue to serve as superintendent through the end of the year, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) said during the news conference. She did not indicate who would replace him.
Johnson’s retirement comes as Chicago’s inspector general investigates an Oct. 17 incident in which police officers found the superintendent passed out in his car at a stop sign.
The incident was initially blamed on a change in Johnson’s blood pressure medication that he said caused him to pull over. But Lightfoot later told the Chicago Sun-Times that the superintendent had a “couple of drinks with dinner” that evening. Johnson had been taking medication since experiencing a blood clot over the summer.
On Monday, Johnson told reporters that he had been “toying” with the idea of retirement “for some time” but insisted that it was not because of the ongoing investigation into the incident. He said it was to spend time with his family.
“I have given 31 years now to this city, and almost four as superintendent, you know, but I recognize also that at some point it’s time to create another chapter in your life,” Johnson said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “And I will tell you all this: When my family and I went to London for the Bears game, that’s the first vacation like that that I’ve had since I became superintendent. And I looked at my family and it made me realize how much of a sacrifice you make for your family when you take on positions like this.”
Lightfoot said Wednesday that the issue of whether he has enough “gas in the tank” has become part of every conversation they have about the crime reduction she wants to see, according to the Sun-Times. There had been speculation of Johnson’s ouster ever since Lightfoot took office this spring.
But the mayor stressed Wednesday that Johnson is “still here” and that she has not had a conversation with the superintendent about replacing him yet.
Then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Johnson as superintendent in 2016 after firing Garry McCarthy in response to released dash-cam footage of a white police officer shooting Black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. Johnson oversaw the department during Officer Jason Van Dyke’s criminal trial in McDonald’s death and in 2016 filed charges with the police board to fire several officers for covering up the killing.
Johnson also made national headlines for the first several months this year when actor Jussie Smollett claimed he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in Chicago. The city’s police force conducted an overwhelmingly detailed investigation into the claim and eventually into Smollett himself after accusing the actor of staging the incident and lying to police.
An Illinois prosecutor dropped the 16-count indictment against Smollett in March, despite the state’s attorney’s office saying it still stood behind the investigation into Smollett’s allegedly false report. Smollett repeatedly maintained his innocence, though Johnson and the prosecutor who dismissed the charges said they believed he was guilty. Public reactions over the Chicago Police Department’s handling of the case were polarized, with some thinking Johnson was leading an appropriate investigation and others who felt the department was too quick to presume the actor guilty.
President Donald Trump singled out Johnson for criticism when he visited Chicago in October, after the superintendent said he was boycotting the president’s speech at an International Association of Chiefs of Police conference.
“Here’s a man who could not bother to show up for a meeting of police chiefs, the most respected people in the country, in his hometown and with the president of the United States,” Trump said to police attendees in Chicago. “And you know why? It’s because he’s not doing his job.”
Johnson said he decided to boycott Trump’s speech because “the values of the people of Chicago are more important than anything that he would have to say.” He added: “We need the immigrant communities to trust their police department. We don’t need them to fear us and then to flee us.”
After Johnson’s boycott of the president, the board of directors for the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police issued a vote of no confidence in him.
The city experienced a surge in gun violence and increased strain in police-community relations after the Laquan McDonald shooting, leaving Johnson with a mess to clean up. As of the end of July, homicides and shootings in Chicago were at a four-year low, according to police data.
One of the names being floated to take over Johnson’s spot in the interim is former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, who retired last year. Beck was considered responsible for significant reforms in LA’s police department. Lightfoot refused to confirm if Beck is under consideration.
Hayley Miller contributed reporting. This article has been updated with information from a Thursday news conference.