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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Fires City's Police Superintendent


When Lori Lightfoot ran for mayor of Chicago, she promised reform and also accountability. Now in the job, she abruptly fired the city's police superintendent this week. She said she wanted to make sure her message is clear that there must be honesty and integrity in government. Activists and legal experts say the shakeup in the country's second-largest police department provides an opportunity for real change. Here's NPR's Cheryl Corley.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Chicago's now-former police superintendent Eddie Johnson was close to retiring before he was fired. It was in November, when surrounded by family and in his dress blue uniform, Johnson announced at the end of the year, he'd leave the force he'd been a part of for three decades.


EDDIE JOHNSON: This job has taken its toll - a toll on my health, my family, my friends. But my integrity remains intact.

CORLEY: Integrity, culture change and police reforms are all issues that Lori Lightfoot said she'd focus on during her campaign for mayor. And when she fired Eddie Johnson just weeks before he was scheduled to retire, she was adamant.


LORI LIGHTFOOT: Time and again, line police officers are held accountable for their actions, but their supervisors get a pass. Mr. Johnson failed the hardworking members of the Chicago Police Department, he intentionally misled the people of Chicago, and he intentionally misled me. None of that is acceptable.

CORLEY: She's referring to an incident in October when police officers found the superintendent asleep in his running car at a stop sign close to home. He blamed the problem on a lapse in taking medication and later told the mayor he had a few drinks with friends. Lightfoot said an inspector general's report told a different story. In a letter released by his attorney, Johnson said he didn't intentionally mislead the mayor or the city, but he did make a poor decision and had a lapse of judgment. Former Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, the city's interim police superintendent, says this isn't how he envisioned a transition, but he and Johnson have talked and will continue to do so.


CHARLIE BECK: He has the best interests of this city and CPD at heart, as do I, so we will make this work.

CORLEY: Beck doesn't want the job permanently. The question now is, what will the Chicago Police Department, which is operating under a federal consent decree, look like, and who will lead it?

MARSHALL HATCH: We have at present a tremendous opportunity for radical reform of this police department.

CORLEY: Marshall Hatch is a Chicago minister and an activist whose church is located in an area plagued by violent crime. He says there's been little change in the tense relationship between residents there and police, despite changes in the police department's use of force policy and other reforms.

HATCH: We need to take a page from the book of the departments that are doing a much better job - New York and LA - and know that we can't police ourselves out of our violence epidemic.

CORLEY: Better relationships between police and the community are a primary goal for many, including Lightfoot, who served as the head of Chicago's police board before becoming mayor, a goal especially since the U.S. Justice Department issued a blistering report that said the Chicago police engaged systematically in the use of excessive and deadly force and in racial discrimination. Northwestern University law professor Sheila Bedi represents community groups monitoring the Chicago consent decree. She says now is a time of reckoning.

SHEILA BEDI: There was a monitor's report that was just filed with the federal court that made clear that the Chicago Police Department just has not been taking the consent decree seriously.

CORLEY: Mayor Lightfoot says change may be difficult, but she is intent on creating a police department that has a culture of integrity and accountability. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW BIRD'S "FALLORUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Cheryl Corley
Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.