Document shows Chicago police development of new foot-chase policy in wake of high-profile fatal police shootings

CHICAGO — A Chicago Police Department document being circulated among police leaders and obtained by The Chicago Tribune contains ideas for new rules for foot chases in the wake of a pair of high-profile fatal shootings that involved such pursuits.

The guidelines being studied essentially call for officers to make more careful decisions about chasing suspects, especially without backup, and only when they have legal justification to stop or arrest a person. The document outlines the inherent danger in the chases, and includes proposing officers not separate from their partners during chases unless there are “exigent circumstances” and make attempts to contain those being pursued to cordoned-off areas if possible with the help of additional police resources.

The internal document, dated April 22, covers the same concepts and has similar language to a Police Department training bulletin on foot pursuits from February 2020.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot called for the formulation of a police foot-chase policy after the March 29 shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo in Little Village, though the need for one was pointed out by the U.S. Department of Justice four years ago.

The calls grew louder this week after video was released of the fatal March 31 shooting of 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez. Toledo and Alvarez were shot and killed — incidents that were both shown in graphic police body-camera video — at the end of foot chases where a pursuing officer confronted them in some degree of isolation. Video footage of both shootings show Toledo and Alvarez each appeared to be holding a gun before they were killed by police.

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Chicago police Superintendent David Brown this week said he had a draft of a new policy in hand. The document obtained by the Tribune appears to contain possible elements of such a policy now under study.

“When engaging in a foot pursuit, officers will assess the risks to the public, to themselves, and to the fleeing subject, in relation to law enforcement’s duty to enforce the law and apprehend the subject,” the document states.

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According to the document, officers could be asked to consider the number of suspects and available police present in a situation before beginning a foot chase; whether the suspect is thought or known to be armed; the severity of the alleged crime committed; the availability of backup officers and radio communications; and the officers’ familiarity with the area.

The finalization of a policy could be weeks away, police and city leaders have said.

According to the document, foot chases may not be the best tactical option in many scenarios, and they should be halted when the risk to the officers or the public outweighs the necessity to detain a suspect.

Other factors include an assessment of whether the foot chase would occur in a residential or commercial area, a school zone, the weather conditions, lighting, time of day and if the ground is unsteady, the document states.

Officers should also be mindful of whether the pursuit path would require rounding corners or going over barriers, such as fences, the document shows.

It also says officers should consider waiting for backup before stopping a vehicle or approaching someone on foot if they believe the person could be a flight risk.

“If a vehicle is already stopped, consider waiting for backup before getting the subjects out of the vehicle,” the document states. “Once ready, have subjects, normally starting with the driver, exit the vehicle one at a time, and secure them before having the next subject step out.

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“Using sound tactics might prevent or discourage a subject from fleeing,” it continues.

Police supervisors, meanwhile, should opt to order a foot chase stopped if they believe there’s a safety risk to the officers and the public, according to the document. Supervisors should also respond to a scene when a foot chase results in an arrest or when containment tactics are needed to find a fleeing suspect.

One supervisor who has participated in conversations with other CPD staff about the developing foot-chase policy told the Tribune some officers have expressed concerns they would not be able to chase suspects at all or need permission every time they engaged in a foot pursuit.

Neither scenario is included in the concepts being discussed, said the supervisor, who asked that his name be withheld because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The supervisor said the concepts overall emphasize the need for officers to balance the risk and safety with a foot pursuit, and that officers have long been taught to make this calculation. But a specific directive on how to apply this thinking to foot pursuits would be new to the department.

At a news conference on Wednesday following the Civilian Office of Police Accountability’s release of video footage of the Alvarez shooting, Brown said a new foot-chase policy was going through an internal review.

The Police Department will also collect input from the community, he said, and will be working with a monitor who is overseeing federal court-ordered reform of the department to complete the new rules.

Brown noted the importance of finding the best practices around the country to draw from, noting the need to move quickly after the Toledo and Alvarez shootings, as well as the general danger foot pursuits present to his officers, the public and “offenders fleeing.”

“We are obviously proceeding with a sense of urgency,” Brown said. “It really is important for us to get it right.”

Brown implemented a foot-chase policy for the Dallas Police Department when he was its chief from 2010 to 2016. The policy was put in place following the controversial fatal police shooting of 31-year-old James Harper in 2012 in the city’s Dixon Circle neighborhood. The policy initially prohibited Dallas police officers from engaging suspects alone during foot chases, though it was later relaxed.

The Dallas police foot-chase policy on its website is similar to the ideas presented in the internal document Chicago police officials are mulling over.

The Dallas policy, which indicates it was revised in November 2018, states a lone officer “shall not” attempt to pursue more than one suspect at a time. It says that if two officers engage two or more suspects who flee in different directions, the officers should only pursue a single suspect.

It also says if two or more officers have multiple suspects detained and one flees, a single officer “shall not” pursue the fleeing suspect if it puts other officers in a dangerous situation with the remaining suspects.

But the Dallas policy also indicates that it’s to be used “as a training tool” for officers and “no discipline will be associated with violations.”

A Chicago police spokesman had no immediate comment on Friday about whether violations of CPD’s new foot-chase policy could lead to disciplinary action against officers.

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