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Chicago police chief, who lowered homicide rate and tussled with Trump, to retire

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson will retire from the department after handling three years of high-profile crimes and a federal probe into police shootings, while also lowering the city’s homicide rate from a two-decade high, a police spokesman said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson speaks at a news conference at Chicago Police headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo

The 31-year-veteran who had worked his way to the helm of the second-largest U.S. police force from beat cop will “announce plans to retire,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Twitter.

He did not say when the announcement would be made.

Johnson had recently verbally tussled with President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly assailed Chicago’s crime rate.

“I can’t, in good conscience, stand by while racial insults and hatred are cast from the Oval Office, or Chicago is held hostage because of our views on new Americans,” Johnson said last month, explaining why he had skipped Trump’s speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Chicago.

Chicago’s homicide rate stood at a 20-year high of 792 in 2016, when Johnson took over the police department, and had dropped to 561 by the end of 2018.

The announcement that Johnson, 60, will step down comes three weeks after patrol officers found him asleep in his car early on Oct. 17. He initially said he had fallen asleep due to blood pressure medication, but later, local media reported he told Mayor Lori Lightfoot he had had a “couple of drinks” before driving.

Separately, New York Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill announced earlier this week that he would step down to take a new job in the private sector.

Johnson told the Chicago Tribune he had been “toying with” retirement for some time.

During a recent family trip to watch the Chicago Bears play the Oakland Raiders early in October in London, “it made me realize how much of a sacrifice you make for your family when you take on positions like this,” Johnson told the paper.

Johnson was appointed in 2016 by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel to restore public trust after the previous superintendent, Garry McCarthy, was fired amid public outrage that the city delayed for more than a year the release of a video that showed a white officer’s fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald.

A U.S. Justice Department investigation into Chicago police shootings found widespread excessive force and racial bias by police officers. It led to a consent decree, a federally enforced agreement overseeing Chicago police reforms.

Although Johnson credited the use of data analysts for the decrease in homicides and shootings, the number of murders in Chicago remains higher than the combined number in New York and Los Angeles, two larger cities.

Johnson has dealt with health issues. After nearly fainting in January of 2017, the police superintendent made public that he suffered from a chronic kidney ailment that required a transplant. In August of that year, his son donated a kidney to him in a life-saving transplant surgery.

During his time as police chief, Johnson also became entangled in a high-profile case against actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging a phony hate crime on the city’s North Side on Jan. 29.

Smollett was charged with a crime, but those charges were later dropped by the local prosecutor, angering Johnson and Emanuel. A special prosecutor was assigned in August to look at the case and how it was handled.

Trump lashed out at Johnson last month in a speech, without details or supporting evidence.

“It’s embarrassing to us as a nation. All over the world, they’re talking about Chicago. Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison,” said Trump. “It’s because he’s not doing his job.”

Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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