BRONZEVILLE — Activists, attorneys and others criticized the Police Department’s new foot chase policy Wednesday, just days before the controversial policy is set to go into effect.
The Police Department announced the policy — which still widely allows police to chase people — in late May. It was developed after the March shootings of 13-year-old Adam Toledo and 22-year-old father Anthony Alvarez, who police shot and killed during chases.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the chases are dangerous to officers, the person being chased and community members. She said the policy would be changed with input from officers and community members.
But the revised policy was quietly announced in late May. It’s set to go into effect Friday as officials work on a final plan this fall. Activists at Wednesday’s news conference said the policy is “vague” and not restrictive enough — and community members’ concerns weren’t listened to in crafting the guidelines.
Nusrat Choudhury, legal director for ACLU Illinois, said there are “four main problems” with the policy.
“It does not make clear that foot pursuits are inherently dangerous and deadly. It does not put enough constraints on officer discretion,” she said. “… It is vague and self-contradictory in places. And it does not require that every single foot pursuit be documented in a report with the reasons justifying that pursuit that can be reviewed by a supervisor so that we can actually rein in this dangerous practice.”
The policy gives “far too much discretion” to officers to determine when a foot chase is necessary and will lead to continued dangerous interactions between the community and police, said Sheila Bedi, a professor of law at Northwestern and civil rights attorney.
“It allows officers to chase down and use force against people who’ve committed incredibly minor offenses and allows officers to rely on their discretion. And it fails to control for the fact that pursuit is a tactic where adrenaline is running high, and we know from the data that officers are proportionally using lethal force and remedies for that problem are just not in that policy,” she said.
The changed policy bans pursuits for minor traffic offenses and all class A misdemeanors unless the person “poses an obvious threat to the community or any person,” according to the Police Department. Officers must also activate their body-worn cameras during chases.
The policy also advises officers to seek alternative ways to detain people, including using technology like cameras and helicopters, to track people. Chases should be stopped if the officers think they wouldn’t be able to control the person they’re chasing if they confronted them, according to the policy.
The full policy can be read online.
“The important parameters outlined in this policy will not only protect our officers, the public and potential suspects during foot pursuits, but it also serves as a step forward in our mission to modernize and reform our Police Department,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement when the new rules were announced last month.
The policy could have been improved if the department had listened to community voices, speakers said Wednesday.
Janet Horne and Aaron Gottlieb are members of the community working group created to discuss changes around the department’s use of force policies, as mandated by the federal consent decree guiding reform of the department.
The 34-member group of activists, politicians, community members and attorneys met often with police officials, but ultimately the overwhelming majority of their recommendations were rejected by the department.
The group members struggled to get the department to listen to their demands surrounding foot pursuit policy, saying it was outside the purview of use of force. They eventually had one “entirely unproductive” conversation, Gottlieb said.
“CPD refused to share any drafts of the written policy, despite us asking,” he said. “The consent decree is designed to give the community the opportunity to provide input on policy, unfortunately CPD has failed to meet that requirement over and over again.”
Horne pointed to a simple but “important” change the working group made to CPD policy to shift from using “subject” to “person” when crafting policy as an example of why the department should listen more to the community.
“For so many members of this community, we’re not treated like we’re people. We’re treated like we’re subjects. We’re treated like we’re guilty before we’ve gone to trial …,” she said.
Horne said she has family members who are in law enforcement, so she understands the need to “protect the safety” of officers.
“But, you know, my parents were more afraid for my life when I left the house than I was for them,” she said.
“Everyone talks about ‘the community doesn’t trust the police,’ but the police don’t trust the community, and that’s a huge part of the problem,” Gottlieb said. “We don’t want ill will towards them. We want the system to work better.”
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