Shatonya Johnson has impressed us for some while. Happily she also impressed Kevin Jackson, Oak Park’s still new village manager. Jackson promoted Johnson from interim chief to the permanent post last week.
As we report today, Jackson went through a legitimate national search for a new chief, eventually surfacing 19 credible candidates. But through the vetting and interview process, it was Johnson, a 23-year veteran of the Oak Park department, who rose to the top.
Staying inside is always a critical choice for a manager. The decision reflects a fundamental faith in the foundations of the police department. We believe that is warranted.
But as we’ve said a dozen times in the two-plus years since Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd on a public street and our nation began to face a reckoning over policing and racism, while Oak Park has a very good police department, its leaders have shown very little taste for making it a great police department.
Chief Johnson has the imperative, and we believe the conviction and the moment, to actively lift this department to its potential.
We’ve expressed our active frustration with former Chief LaDon Reynolds, about the smartest cop we’ve ever met, for his determined refusal to be public-facing in this remarkable and damaged era for policing.
Already we see that Chief Johnson has a different approach. When we saw her at the 4th of July parade in Oak Park she was on her way to the funeral of the murdered Jailyn Logan-Bledsoe. She had been in direct communication with the teenager’s family. Her patient handling of an 18-hour standoff on Harlem Avenue, which ended without harm, was affirming of a department focused on mental health interventions.
And last week at a village board hearing on a new policy requiring gas stations to close overnight (Logan-Bledsoe was murdered in a Chicago Avenue gas station while buying a soft drink at 2 a.m.), Johnson brought passion and fire to her case-by-case assessment of the violence that has been perpetrated in recent years in late-night gas station incidents.
That’s empathy. That’s leadership. And we’re impressed.
Now finally, the components of Oak Park’s stumbling and overdue study of policing and needed reforms is imminent. The BerryDunn report had better provide the foundation for Chief Johnson, Manager Jackson and this village board to actively, aggressively turn this department toward the community – especially the Black and Brown community.
Couple that with a strong further push to empower the Citizen Police Oversight Commission and, with a chief willing and ready to speak candidly, to foster transparency and we will cheer as this department goes from good to great.