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Chicago Police Superintendent Discusses City's Spike In Gun Violence


In Chicago, many people are once again questioning the city's leadership after another spike in gun violence. Last weekend, more than 70 people were shot, 12 of them fatally. For days, there were no arrests reported. Chicago officials and residents pointed fingers at each other. Residents said the mayor and police weren't doing enough to stop crime while the mayor and police said residents should come forward with information. This afternoon, the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, Eddie T. Johnson, gave us an update.

EDDIE T JOHNSON: We've made some arrests. We have some great leads, and hopefully, you know, we'll bring some more individuals in.

SHAPIRO: Despite this weekend's violence, Superintendent Johnson told me he sees Chicago as a safe city. He says the problem areas can be pinpointed on a map.

JOHNSON: This is concentrated in two areas on the South Side and the West Side. We have a small subsection of individuals that are driving this violence, and the good people in those areas are sick and tired of it, as well as they should be, along with myself and the mayor.

SHAPIRO: So if this is a small number of people, why has it become such a big, unsolvable problem?

JOHNSON: Well, as far as the police go, we still have to conduct constitutional policing. So even though we know who some of these individuals are, we still have to work within the framework of the Constitution. That's one piece. The second piece - and I have to honestly say, you know, the relationship between the police department and the black communities especially has been fractured over the years, so we have to do a better job as a department of repairing and rebuilding that trust.

The third thing is, we have to do a better job of ensuring if people come forward with this information, that we can keep them safe. The people that witness these things live in those communities. Although they might know the offender, they still have to worry about the welfare of themselves and their families.

SHAPIRO: I think some people are going to hear you talk about, well, we have to do constitutional policing and read between the lines to say, well, if we could, we would - fill in the blank - bulldoze neighborhoods, storm into buildings, whatever. But when you follow that up with saying, we have to rebuild trust with communities, it sounds like those two things are at odds with one another.

JOHNSON: Yeah, they can be. But I tell you. I've been a cop for 30 years now, and I've lived in this city my entire life. The Chicago Police Department is only as good as the faith that the community has in it because the police shouldn't be seen as an occupying force. They should be seen as partners in the community because at the end of the day, a lot of them live in those communities.

SHAPIRO: We heard something on Morning Edition today from Reverend Ira Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church on Chicago's West Side.


SHAPIRO: He spoke with my colleague Rachel Martin. And I want to play you part of what he said about the feeling of people in his community.


IRA ACREE: They're in a Catch-22. Fear keeps them from communicating with the police. But for many years, I thought people were just being insensitive and being naive and irrational, but they are aware of the low clearance rate as it relates to homicide. And they also don't have a witness protection program for the people who turn in these coldhearted killers.

SHAPIRO: Low clearance rate for homicide, no witness protection program - that seems to point right to your police force.

JOHNSON: Yeah, well, you know what? He's right in that the clearance rate isn't what we want it to be, but that's incorrect in terms of there's no witness protection. We work with the state's attorney's office every day to ensure that people do - if they do come forward and they are in fear, that we give them protection. So we do have that in place in Chicago.

SHAPIRO: I'd like to hear more from you about how you rebuild trust. In 2017, a Department of Justice report said the CPD was quick to use excessive force, often against blacks and Latinos. In 2014, there was the death of Laquan McDonald, the teenager shot by a Chicago police officer, other officers charged with impeding the investigation into the shooting. How do you begin to build trust with all of this in people's minds?

JOHNSON: So I'll tell you this. When I became superintendent in 2016, for the first eight months, every day, I was out in the community or with the rank and file trying to rebuild the trust and get the morale back up. So the way that you do it is you go out there. You talk to people. You invite them into your space. And you hear and listen to their concerns. And when you can, you address those concerns. Now, we've made some progress. Are we there yet - no. I know being a cop in Chicago for 30 years that we've done some things incorrectly. So I think the way you combat that is by making the department more professional.

We've started a new program where we actually immerse new officers into the community that they're going to serve before they actually officially hit the street. And that's so they can get more familiar with the areas that they're going to be patrolling because we do have to have a relationship between the community and police department.

SHAPIRO: Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson, thank you so much for talking with us today.

JOHNSON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.