Chicago Police Are No Longer Allowed To Chase People For Minor Offenses Under New Policy

Alley where Adam Toledo Was killed
The alley where Adam Toledo was killed March 29 by Chicago police during a foot pursuit. On Wednesday, in response to Adam's killing, the department released a proposed policy outlining when and how officers can engage in foot chases. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Alley where Adam Toledo Was killed
The alley where Adam Toledo was killed March 29 by Chicago police during a foot pursuit. On Wednesday, in response to Adam's killing, the department released a proposed policy outlining when and how officers can engage in foot chases. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Chicago Police Are No Longer Allowed To Chase People For Minor Offenses Under New Policy

Two months after the police killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, Chicago police on Wednesday unveiled a new policy governing when and how officers should engage in foot chases.

The policy tells officers they are not allowed to pursue someone suspected only of committing a minor traffic offense, or suspected of committing a low-level misdemeanor, unless the person poses an “obvious” threat to the community.

It also provides guidance on ways cops can avoid foot pursuits altogether, and directs Chicago police to never chase if they believe the risk to officers or the public outweighs the need for “immediate apprehension.”

The new guidelines mark the first time the city has put in writing specific directives to officers when it comes to chasing suspects on foot - something experts say is one of the most dangerous activities in which officers engage.

“This [will] give officers an opportunity, maybe to slow things down and have a better outcome when they’re trying to capture suspects,” Superintendent David Brown said. “That is the intent of a foot pursuit policy, you know … ‘let’s use de escalation, let’s set up a perimeter if need be. Let’s choose the right place to capture him and the right time to capture him or her.’ ”

The city has known for years that its lack of a foot pursuit policy was a problem. It took the killing of a child during a foot chase through a dark Little Village alley to finally force action.

Adam was killed by a single gunshot to the chest after he ran from officers who were responding to an alert about shots being fired around 2:30 a.m. on March 29.

The seventh-grader was one of two Chicagoans killed by police during foot pursuits in the same week at the end of March. The other was 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez, who was shot while fleeing from an officer on March 31 in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood.

Even though the shooting of Adam prompted the policy, there is nothing in the policy that would have barred officers from chasing him the night he was killed. Brown declined to comment on whether this new policy would have changed anything about the events of that night had it been in effect at the time.

The new policy has more relevance when it comes to Alvarez’s killing. The attorney for Officer Evan Solano - who killed Alvarez - said the chase that ended in Alvarez’s death started because officers suspected Alvarez of driving on a suspended license. That chase would have been barred under the new policy.

Also, during the chase, Solano and his partner get separated from one another because Solano was running faster than the other officer. The new policy tells officers to avoid becoming separated from their partner.

The policy also forbids officers from chasing if they are “unaware of their current location or unable to provide a location for support units to respond.” Ambulances and other officers were delayed in responding to the Alvarez shooting because the two involved officers gave the wrong address following the shooting.

Activists and experts have long said a foot pursuit policy was desperately needed for Chicago cops because foot chases can lead to unnecessary violent confrontations between police and citizens.

A 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that the lack of a Chicago Police Department foot chase policy endangered officers and the public.

A week after Adam was killed, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent David Brown promised a new policy on when and how police officers engage in foot chases in an effort to avoid violent confrontations.

“Foot pursuits present a significant safety issue,” Lightfoot said at an April 5 press conference. “Police get a call … their adrenaline is pumping and oftentimes they get separated from their partner, so they’re running on their own through a dense, often dark urban environment.”

City leaders promised to work quickly. Brown said they were “obviously proceeding with a sense of urgency” and said they wanted to have the policy in effect before summer.

Compared to the usual process, two months for a whole new policy is incredibly fast for CPD.

Brown said the policy released Wednesday is an “interim” policy that will go into effect on June 11. He said the goal is to have a final, permanent policy by September, once the public and the independent monitor overseeing Chicago’s police reform efforts weigh in.

Brown was asked on Wednesday whether there were concerns the new policy would make it harder for police to catch criminals.

“There’s no data to support that crime goes up because foot pursuit policies have been implemented” in other cities, Brown said.

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.