Foot chases pose risks, force officers to make decisions in heat of pursuit: experts
Foot pursuits that end with a police shooting are some of the most difficult for oversight agencies to make a determination on — even with video footage, said Sharon Fairley, former chief administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority.
Video of the Chicago police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo shows the risks involved in foot chases, which are inherently chaotic and force officers to make split-second decisions in the heat of the pursuit, law enforcement experts said Thursday.
“The minute they are headed down a dark alley with poor visibility where the officer is going to be at risk himself and put Adam at risk of the use of lethal force, the benefit of the foot pursuit should have been evaluated and the officer should have realized that the risks were just far too great,” said Sheila Bedi, a Northwestern University professor who has been involved in negotiations with the police department over a federally mandated consent decree.
“I think what we see here is a classic scenario of a foot pursuit, where an officer pumped full of adrenaline and aggression is chasing someone he considers a suspect and so then is really unable to accurately perceive whether that individual poses a risk or not.”
Because of the difficulty of making a decision under such circumstances, foot chases should be far more restricted than they are now, Bedi said.
Sharon Fairley, who previously oversaw investigations of police-involved shooting as the chief administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority, agreed.
“Something we need to think about and worry about from a policy perspective is making sure police officers understand that sometimes it’s perfectly OK to let someone get away,” Fairley said.
Thirty percent of foot pursuits end with the use of force, according to the most recent report by the independent monitor tasked with overseeing the department’s progress in complying with the consent decree. The report noted that the CPD was close to complying with a new policy and training requirements for foot chases.
Foot pursuits that end with a police shooting are some of the most difficult for oversight agencies to make a determination on — even with video footage, Fairley said.
“The question...[with the Adam Toledo case is] when that officer made the decision to use deadly force, whether he thought this young man was threatening him with a gun,” Fairley said, noting that the law and Supreme Court precedents only require officers to reasonably fear for their safety when they make the decision to use their weapons.
“An officer isn’t necessarily required to wait to get shot,” Fairley said. “If it’s reasonable that he believes this person is armed and is going to use the weapon that they have, then they are reasonable in responding.
“This is going to be a tough case for investigators to work on.”
Craig Miller, a retired Dallas Police deputy chief, said he believes Adam’s shooting, while tragic, will ultimately be ruled as justified.
“It goes to the totality of the situation, all the factors,” said Miller, who led police-involved shooting investigations in Dallas. “I think police officers across the country in that situation would have used force.”
Miller, who testifies for plaintiffs and defendants in use-of-force court cases, said that just because a shooting is justified, it doesn’t make it “good.”
“There’s a difference between a justified shooting and a good shooting,” he said. “In hindsight, you could look at this and you could say it was a justified shooting, but it wasn’t a good shooting: No one was firing shots at the officer.”
Miller also cautioned the public from drawing conclusions based on the video of Adam’s shooting before a more thorough investigation is completed.
“The camera is a wonderful tool that has changed the direction of policing ... but you still have to realize the body camera sees different things [when it’s] mounted on your chest than what the eyes do.
“We’re humans and not machines and we’re forced to make those decisions with the information that we have, not with the luxury that other people might have in their professions.”