The Chicago Police Department unveiled its long-awaited foot pursuit policy last year which laid out the justifications officers needed to engage in a foot chase.
No longer would a person simply fleeing police be enough for an officer to pursue them, but cops would need a justification to do so, such as an unlawful use of weapon or domestic battery.
The motivation for implementing the policy came following a series of fatal police shootings of young Latino men that were chased by police. Advocates argued the lack of a pursuit policy puts both the public and officers at risk.
The foot pursuit policy – and the dangers associated with such a pursuit – was tragically brought to the forefront last week when Chicago police officer Andrés Mauricio Vásquez Lasso was fatally shot chasing a man who was allegedly armed and involved in a domestic dispute.
The policy in place is fairly scrupulous as it gives examples of when and how an officer should engage in foot chases but despite its well intention, it falls short of the unexpected variables of foot chases.
What motivated the department to create a plan?
Calls for CPD to create a foot pursuit police became a contentious discussion following two high-profiled police killings in 2021.
The first was the killing of 13-year-old Adam Toledo who was with another man near 24th Street and Sawyer Avenue in Little Village when a gun detection system known as ShotSpotters detected shots fired from the area. A police unit found Toledo and 21-year-old Ruben Roman walking in an alley near where the shots had just rung out.
A foot chase quickly followed when the cops approached Toledo and Roman in their vehicle. The older man was quickly tackled and apprehended while Toledo continued his escape.
Officer Eric Stillman, who was chasing after Toledo, ordered the boy to stop and show his hands. Then, as Toledo stopped and turned to show his empty hands — though appeared to have tossed a gun behind a fence moments before — was fatally shot by Stillman.
Just two days after Toledo’s killing, Chicago police were involved with another deadly foot pursuit on the Northwest Side.
Anthony Alvarez, 22, was walking through a gas station in Portage Park when a police SUV pulled into the station with its emergency lights flashing. Alvarez immediately dropped the bag he was carrying and took off.
Police chased Alvarez until he collapsed onto the front sidewalk of a home on the 5200 block of West Eddy Street. Footage from officer Evan Solano’s body-mounted camera shows a gun in Alvarez’s right hand but doesn’t show Alveraz pointing the gun toward the officers chasing him.
Solano shouted “Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” seconds before shooting Alvarez in the back and left leg.
The fatal shootings led to mass protest and had Latino leaders calling on the city to put a moratorium on foot pursuits — citing the immediate danger they posed to the public.
It wasn’t the first time CPD’s foot pursuit policy was questioned.
Years earlier, a damning Department of Justice report found officers often engaged in “tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits.”
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown announced an interim foot pursuit policy nearly two months after the fatal shootings of Toledo and Alvarez but stressed it was only a temporary policy until a more permanent one was decided with community feedback.
A year later, in June 2022, the finalized foot pursuit policy would be unveiled.
The most recent Independent Monitoring Report acknowledged “CPD made significant strides toward finalizing” with its new foot pursuit policy but won’t look into its effectiveness until the next report.
Why are foot pursuit policies important and what’s in CPD’s?
Sharon Fairley, who once oversaw investigations of police shootings with the now disbanded Independent Police Review Authority, said it is crucial for departments to have a clearly defined foot pursuit policy.
“It’s really important because foot pursuits are inherently dangerous not only to community members being sought but also the officers themselves,” Fairley said. “Most good policies remind officers there are alternatives to foot pursuits such as taking cover, catching the person later or air resources like a helicopter — those kinds of things.”
Fairley said key components for a foot pursuit policy must include when it is OK for police to chase someone, outline the line of communication for the officer during the interaction and when should an officer stop pursuing.
Chicago police’s policy outlines many of these things clearly first by establishing that foot chases carry a risk to not only the officer but to the person being pursued and bystanders. Officers will continuously need to determine whether the need to detain someone outweighs the threat a foot pursuit poses to public safety.
This usually means that the subject is involved with a felony, a Class A misdemeanor or a tragic offense that endangers the safety of others. Or if a person poses an “obvious physical threat to any person.”
Examples listed in the policy include: aggravated assault, battery, domestic battery or unlawful use of a weapon.
It also lists specific instances when an officer shouldn’t engage in a foot pursuit which is mostly minor offenses. They also can’t pursue “based solely on a person’s response to the presence of police.”
It also gives instances on when an officer should end a pursuit, such as if they lose their department-issued radio or firearm.
Officers are also prohibited from initiating or continuing a foot pursuit if:
- There is a reasonable risk to police officers, civilians and the subject being chased
- If an officer is injured or unable to safely continue the pursuit
- Is unable or loses the ability to effectively communicate with dispatch or other officers
- If an officer believes they wouldn’t be able to control the subject being pursued should a confrontation happen — due to exhaustion or other physical conditions
- If a supervisor directs an officer to call it off
Officers should also consider alternatives to a foot chase under these high-risk situations:
- A police officer is alone
- The person being pursued is visibly armed with a firearm
- Officers become separated or they lose visual contact with one another
- The person being pursued enters a building or structure
- The identity of the person being chased is known that would allow their apprehension at a later time
“I think [CPD] has gotten most of these core components you would expect to see,” Fairley said. “CPD policy has some really important guidelines like what not to do when you’re walking alone or see someone visibly armed with a firearm. Those are recognized as extremely high risk which we often see many of these pursuits end tragically.”
Still, Fairley said, officers can be theoretically trained on the policy but all that can go out the window in a split second.
“That’s the challenge here because this is a judgment call we are asking officers to make,” Fairley said. “That’s why these policies aren’t a pronounce panacea but at least they can be very helpful when thinking about the right thing to do: such as are there other methods that can help us detain this person?”