CHICAGO — The Police Department has a new foot chase policy, and while it acknowledges the danger of chasing people, it still widely allows the practice.
The Police Department will implement the policy once all officers have been trained on it, which is expected to take several weeks, officials announced Tuesday. Officials have said the changes were needed because foot chases pose a danger to officers, the public and the people being chased, and that danger is not always worth catching the person running from police.
The policy comes more than a year after police shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo and young father Anthony Alvarez during separate foot chases, leading to officials — including Mayor Lori Lightfoot — calling for change. Recently, police shot another 13-year-old during a chase.
The policy is, more than anything, meant to protect officers, Supt. David Brown said at a news conference Tuesday, noting the city has seen a jump in officers shot this year. Its secondary goal is to ensure officers police in a constitutional manner, he said.
“The highest part of this is officer safety. We want our officers safe so they can help you …,” Brown said. “The policy is first and foremost meant to ensure officers are doing their job safer, and then, obviously, being held accountable to do it constitutional. And that’s the expectation of all of us, that we do our job safer and doing our job in a legal manner.”
The new policy is similar to the temporary policy the Police Department implemented in May 2021, after Toledo and Alvarez were killed. That temporary policy was widely criticized by local activists and by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Illinois branch, which said the policy failed residents of color.
But the permanent policy does have two major changes from the May 2021 version, officials said Tuesday: It has enhanced supervision, as the Tactical Review and Evaluation Division must review every foot chase; and officers must fill out a form every time they chase someone so the department can collect more information about those chases and use that to better inform its policies and training.
“We’ll learn from the documentation that’s required with the foot policies on some of the things we could do better,” Brown said.
Brown also said the increased supervision of chases is a “linchpin” of the policy, as it ensures officers can be held accountable.
Read the foot chase policy:
The policy says officers can only chase someone if there is a “valid law enforcement need to detain the person … [that] outweighs the thread to safety posed by pursuit.”
Under that policy, an officer can chase someone so long as they have “reasonable articulable suspicion or probable cause” to think someone is committing or is about to commit a felony, a class A misdemeanor, a traffic offense that would endanger others or is “committing or is about to commit an arrestable offense that poses an obvious physical threat to any person.”
Officers should decide if the seriousness of the offense is worth chasing the person to immediately detain them, according to the policy.
That means officers still use their own judgment to decide if they should chase someone.
“The officer decides,” Brown said. “It’s reasonable suspicion, is the standard; and that’s been the standard in law enforcement. It’s not a new standard.”
For example, officers are not supposed to chase someone for things like a business license offense; a parking violation; violating an ordinance, like drinking outside; or for class B or C misdemeanors, including assault and criminal trespass to land, according to the policy.
Officers are also not supposed to chase someone who is solely trying to avoid coming into contact with an officer, like someone who walks away or declines to speak, according to the policy.
Officers also cannot provoke people into fleeing, according to the policy, which explicitly prohibits officers from driving at a group of people, getting out of the car and stopping people who run away.
But officers can choose to chase someone if they have committed or the officer thinks they’ll commit aggravated assault, battery, theft or driving under the influence, among other offenses, according to the policy.
Officers must decide before or during the chase when to stop it, and they should take into consideration things like if they can apprehend the person at another time or use a helicopter unit to watch the person rather than chase them, according to the policy.
Officers must also stop the chase if they don’t know where they are or lose their radio, as that endangers them, Brown said.
Residents can go online to leave feedback on the proposed policy. The comment run period will run through July 6.
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