CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel got his way on Wednesday when the city council approved his choice to lead a police department that faces a federal investigation and racism accusations.
The council unanimously approved Emanuel’s candidate, Eddie Johnson, two weeks after he was named interim chief in a bid to rebuild the city’s trust in police.
“Well, we can strike the word interim,” Emanuel, looking at Johnson, said immediately following the council vote.
The tarnished image of Chicago’s police has been a political liability for Emanuel, who defied calls to resign last year after days of protests over a white officer’s fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald, after video of the 2014 shooting was released.
That case was one of numerous fatal police shootings of unarmed African-Americans across the United States that have stirred outrage and raised questions of racial bias in policing.
In picking Johnson, Emanuel rejected recommendations by a civilian board. The council moved to change the official selection process so Emanuel would not have to wait to select Johnson, a 55-year-old former head of the department’s patrol division.
Johnson, who is black, takes over as police superintendent immediately and will deal with ongoing public unrest over the police. After the Monday shooting by police of a 16-year-old black male, police arrested two people at a Tuesday protest rally.
Also on Wednesday, the council approved payments totaling $6.45 million to settle cases involving two black men who died while in police custody.
A task force set up by Emanuel has urged the Chicago police to acknowledge its racist past and change how they handle allegation of excessive force, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Emanuel said Johnson can help change things, however.
“You have the command, you have the character and also the capacity to lead the department of the city of Chicago at this time,” Emanuel said after he and the council gave Johnson a standing ovation.
The previous superintendent, Garry McCarthy, was fired amid public outrage that the city delayed for more than a year the release of the McDonald video, which led to first-degree murder charges against the officer. In the aftermath of protests, the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation into Chicago police shootings.
Reporting by Justin Madden, Editing by Ben Klayman and Steve Orlofsky