The most dangerous job for a Chicago cop is chasing somebody on foot down a dark street or gangway. Talk about putting your life on the line.
The most dangerous place for the rest of us might be at the other end of that police chase, being pursued by an officer with a gun who must often make a harrowing split-second decision. That decision, as we’ve seen in the last three months with the shootings of Adam Toledo and Anthony Alvarez, can go terribly wrong.
Police foot chases should be rare and regulated, yet Chicago until this month had no written rules as to when an officer should give chase or give it up.
Though other police departments have had such guidelines for years. Though a 2016 Chicago Tribune investigation found that foot chases played a role in more than a third of police shootings. Though a 2017 Justice Department study found that many Chicago police foot chases unnecessarily endangered both officers and the public.
Finally now, as of June 11, the Chicago Police Department has put in place written rules on foot chases, but the new rules remain a work in progress. CPD pulled the rules together quickly in the two months after 13-year-old Adam Toledo was shot, and the department is inviting the public to offer suggestions for improvement. The rules are to be finalized in September.
Your chance to weigh in
You can read the new rules on CPD’s website, chicagopolice.org, and leave a comment — anonymously — until July 15. We urge you to do so, as specifically and constructively as possible. This is your chance. We urge you to tell CPD exactly what you like and dislike about the new rules and how to improve them.
CPD also has scheduled two virtual “community conversations” on the new rules, each session open to the first 200 people who register. The first meeting will be at 7 p.m. on June 30; the second will be at noon on July 10.
For our part, we think CPD’s new rules, even as currently written, could go a long way toward reducing the number of unwise foot chases and making justified chases safer for all involved. But only — we can’t stress this enough — if the rules are drilled into every officer through intense in-person training. And only if the rules are actually enforced.
We don’t agree with critics who say the new rules are so vague as to really change nothing. Even more so, we don’t agree with the head of the local police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, that the new rules could effectively end almost all foot pursuits. What we see is a thoughtful effort to balance the need for aggressive police work with the need to minimize dangerous foot chases.
Under the rules, which borrow from practices in effect in Baltimore and New Orleans, foot pursuits are deemed appropriate “only when there is probable cause for an arrest or it is believed an individual has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime.” The police are not to chase after anybody for something as minor as a traffic offense or for any criminal offense below a Class A misdemeanor unless the suspect “poses an obvious threat to the community or any person.”
The rules direct an officer to never give chase on foot if they believe the risk to the police or the public outweighs the need for “immediate apprehension.” And officers should never separate from their partners if they can’t see the person they are chasing. No officer on their own, that is to say, should chase somebody down a blind gangway.
The guidelines require officers to use common sense and their own best judgment, perhaps more so than we might like. But in the real world, police work is swift-moving and unpredictable. We challenge anybody to come up with a set of rules free of all subjective assessments.
Cops trained to chase
When it comes to any set of guidelines for foot chases, the biggest rub is this: It’s almost an unnatural act for a cop not to give chase when somebody runs. The police are trained to catch bad guys, and bad guys run. As a matter of maintaining order and control, the police are also trained to step up, not stand down, when their orders are resisted.
That being so, discouraging unnecessary foot chases is a matter of changing cop culture, not just cop rules. And that’s a job that must begin with the first day of training for new recruits, and through continuous on-the-job training.
Chicago police officers right now are getting only online instruction in the new rules, not in-person, scenario-based training. That is hardly sufficient.
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