The man suspected of killing a Chicago Police commander Tuesday in the Thompson Center was wearing body armor and has a long felony record, including a conviction for armed robbery, according to court records and police sources.
Paul Bauer, the commander of the Near North District, was shot multiple times at about 2 p.m. and taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Earlier in the day, he was participating in “active shooter” training for members of the Chicago Police exempt ranks at the fire department’s academy south of the Loop, said Larry Langford, a spokesman for the fire department.
“Take the time to spend with your family and friends and keep Commander Bauer’s family in your thoughts and prayers,” police Supt. Eddie Johnson said in an emailed message to rank-and-file officers. “Any loss of life in this city is tragic, but today’s different.”
Just before the shooting, Central District tactical officers had spotted a suspicious man near State and Wacker, Johnson said in his email.
The man ran when the officers tried to do a “street stop” to interview him. He was wearing a long black coat with a fur collar.
Bauer, 53, was near the Thompson Center when he heard the officers put out a description of the suspect on his radio.
“The commander encountered the offender and a confrontation ensued,” Johnson said in his email.
“We have a 10-1,” the police radio crackled, referring to an officer in peril. “We have an off-duty shot.”
The shooter is in custody and the weapon was recovered, according to Johnson, who was visibly upset during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
The 44-year-old suspect’s felony record goes back to 1998, when he was charged with armed robbery. He was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
In 2007, the man was charged with being a felon in possession of body armor, possession of a defaced firearm and possession of heroin. He got three years in prison on the gun charge, records show.
In 2011, he was charged with resisting an officer and battery. He was convicted of battery and given 30 days of community service, records show.
Finally, the suspect was convicted of drug possession in 2014 and received a two-year prison term.
The Sun-Times isn’t naming the man, who lives on the South Side, because he isn’t charged in Bauer’s death.
In addition to the Near North District, also known as the 18th District, Bauer had been the commander of the department’s mounted patrol unit.
Bauer was in charge of the mounted unit in 2013 when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Officers on 30 horses kept control of the streets in Wrigleyville after people broke down police barricades.
He helped with the Horses of Honor project, in which 6-foot-tall, 6-foot-long horse statues were displayed downtown. Each horse, decorated by local artists, carried a minimum donation of $2,500 for the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, which assists the families of fallen and injured officers.
All but one of the horses was named after officers who died.
Three members of the mounted unit were on horseback outside the Northwestern emergency room in honor of Bauer.
Bauer, who lived in Bridgeport with his wife and 13-year-old daughter, is the first Chicago Police officer shot to death on or off duty since the 2011 slaying of Officer Clifton Lewis. Bauer is among 13 Chicago Police officers shot to death since 1998. Dept. Supt. James Riordan was the last high-ranking member of the department to be shot to death. He was killed in 1981 while he was off-duty.
At City Hall, aldermen remembered a dedicated, outstanding officer.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) got word about the fatal shooting while he and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) were in a City Hall conference room waiting to meet with Bauer to discuss expanding cooperation between the Near North District and Northwestern University police.
That followed a recent shooting that shattered the windows at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and an increase in street crime in Streeterville.
“He was the best police commander in the 18th District during the 20 years I lived there. He loved the job. He had a passion for the job. He was a good man. We lost one of the best today. It’s devastating. I don’t have words,” said Hopkins, who rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital when he heard the news.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was on a business trip to Los Angeles when Bauer was killed.
A statement released by the mayor’s office quoted Emanuel as saying that the “hearts of every Chicagoan are heavy as we mourn the loss” of a popular district commander who “stood for the highest ideals” of a Chicago Police Department sworn to serve and protect the people of Chicago.
“His death is a tragic reminder of the dangerous duty the men and women of our police department accept to ensure the safety of us all,” the mayor was quoted as saying.
Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham said in a statement: “The FOP and its members mourn the senseless and tragic loss of Commander Bauer and ask for prayers for him and his family.”
At the Thompson Center after the shooting, hundreds of onlookers peered over police tape. The crime scene brought the normally bustling downtown intersection to an eerie standstill at the start of rush hour.
Norman Talley said he was standing inside the Thompson Center entrance when he heard a volley of gunshots and saw police officers swarming as hundreds of people scrambled outside.
Talley said he saw officers take a middle-aged man into custody, before paramedics wheeled out a person on a stretcher, covered by a blood-soaked white sheet.
“Shocking. I’m still shaking,” he said.
Attorney Deborah Martinez said she was walking into a courtroom on the 11th floor of the Daley Center when she saw people gathering by the window looking down on a sea of police vehicles gathering across the street outside the Thompson Center.
Martinez said she saw paramedics performing chest compressions on a person covered by a white sheet atop a stretcher. “Right here in the Loop. It’s insane,” Martinez said.
Dan Ryan was chatting with an acquaintance outside the Thompson Center entrance when he saw a man bolting out of a store on Clark Street and a few people chasing after him.
“I thought he had swiped a purse or something,” Ryan said.
The person ran down a stairwell at the Thompson Center, and that’s when Ryan heard the shots.
“By the second gunshot, I was running. It was like a movie. Everybody was scrambling like it was a terrorist attack,” Ryan said.
Ryan said he didn’t get a good look at the man fleeing. Cops were on the scene in seconds, he said.
After Bauer’s death was announced, his remains were taken to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office on the Near West Side, escorted by Near North District staff.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was seen outside the morgue office. In a statement posted to Twitter, she said: “I was heartbroken to learn of the death of Chicago Police Department Commander Paul Bauer. My deepest condolences to his family and I ask residents of Cook County to join me in keeping them in their thoughts and prayers at this time.”
Ald. Reilly and Hopkins were two of three aldermen, in addition to Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), who were also outside the Northwestern emergency room Tuesday afternoon.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose Near West Side ward also includes a chunk of the Near North District, described Bauer as a “good listener” and “very down to earth.”
“I was just at a community meeting with him last week. He actually left a retirement party to come to the meeting for me. He really put his elbows into trying to make things better in the community. Everybody who worked with him liked him,” Burnett said.
“He was old enough to retire. Him and I spoke about that before,” he said. “I’m just so hurt about it. He was such a nice guy. He really cared about fairness and treating everybody the same. He tried to do everything right. He never shied away from anything. Any challenges happening in the community, he jumped right on it and tried to resolve it.
After a shooting at row houses at Cabrini-Green row, Bauer “jumped right on it” and proved himself to be a “commander who did a lot of detective work,” Burnett said.
“He knew a lot of people in the neighborhood. He could tell you kids who were on the verge of doing something wrong and kids who were just being pushed into doing things wrong. And those kids he knew were being pushed, he’d try to talk to them and their parents and try to stop them from getting in trouble and being around the wrong people,” Burnett said.
“He was a guy who treated folks like they were human beings. He was policeman’s policeman. But he was also a people person. Very soft-spoken, very calm and very honest.”
In a recent interview with WCIU-TV, Bauer talked about the monthly “Coffee with the Commander” he held with 18th District residents and business leaders in an effort to rebuild the shattered trust between citizens and police.
“It’s just a great mix of the community to come in there and talk,” Bauer said.
“There’s a perception out there that there’s this wall — that there’s a lot of mistrust with the Police Department. [But] from my perspective, I’ve never been thanked more for my service in the last two to three years, compared to the previous 28 years. There’s huge support.”
The Chicago Police Memorial Foundation joins all Chicagoans, the Chicago Police Department and all of our brothers and sisters in law enforcement in mourning today’s senseless loss of Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer.
Commander Bauer’s tragic passing is all the more painful to us because Paul was a friend of the Foundation and enthusiastically gave of his time and talents to support our mission to never forget the brave men and women who died in service to this great city.
Contributing: Rachel Hinton