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Chicago police still wrapping up foot-pursuit policy in wake of lawsuit

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CHICAGO - Friday closed out one of the last chapters of a nearly 10-month process to finalize the Chicago Police Department’s foot-pursuit policy after multiple public comment sessions, coming the same week the family of a man killed by police during one such chase last spring filed suit.

The first draft of the policy was launched in May — about two months after the police chases that ended in the controversial fatal shootings of 13-year-old Adam Toledo and 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez.

Officers have been following that temporary policy since then. But previously the department operated without such a policy, a major point that was made in a lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of Alvarez’s family.

The most recent 10-page draft of the policy was released for public viewing Feb. 10, and the department allowed for 15 days of public comment before officials start to analyze the feedback and finalize the new rules.

Whatever the final policy is, it will provide the first official, completed guidelines for Chicago police officers who engage in foot pursuits.

There are two main changes from the first draft to the current version, Robert Boik, CPD’s executive director of constitutional policing and reform, told the Tribune on Friday. The first is overall language clarification and the second is supervisory responsibilities, Boik said.

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Marilyn Barnes holds a sign reading "Justice for Adam Toledo!" while participating in a protest against the police at Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago on April 3, 2021.

Clarifying the language was part of the feedback the department received from the first round of public comment, Boik said. And defining the responsibilities of the supervisor, such as having to complete an after-action review of the foot chase, is in line with a broader goal of the consent decree the department now finds itself under.

While the document includes specific directives and prohibitions, it also underscores a broader philosophy shift: that chasing a suspect should no longer be considered an automatic response and there will be times where a circumstance dictates officers stop a chase.

“Focusing on professionalization, it means that our officers are asking certain questions before they act. And again, sometimes, that process happens in an instant. But that’s where training comes in,” Boik said. “… I think this was new for officers to think about. … This is a new concept we are getting comfortable with.”

The department originally planned to produce a final draft last September but then pushed back the self-imposed deadline, saying it needed more time to analyze a proposal. The department at the time said in a statement that U.S. District Judge Robert Dow, who is overseeing the consent decree the department is under, also thought it was necessary for CPD to continue gathering and reviewing data.

Language in the policy reflects recommendations from experts and rules that other departments have already implemented, including, for example, that officers weigh factors such as whether there are other means that could achieve the apprehension of a suspect, whether the officer is alone and whether there are other supports available, such as a helicopter, to assist. It also instructs officers to consider if the subject could be arrested at a later time.

Chases should only be initiated, per the draft policy, if the need to detain the person outweighs the risk to the public and the officer.

It was not immediately fully clear how the new policy might have affected decisions to chase Toledo and Alvarez. The officer who ran down a Little Village alley after Toledo was largely alone when he did so. Both Toledo and Alvarez, who was shot in the yard of a home after trying to outrun an officer, were holding weapons at points during their pursuits.

While the policy prohibits officers from chasing someone simply because they run away, it allows officers to chase if they have a “reasonable articulable suspicion” that criminal activity has or will occur, a standard that is too low, said civil rights attorney Sheila Bedi.

“This policy (is) far short of providing the necessary protections and in many ways just reinforces the dangerous practice of using foot pursuits,” Bedi said, adding that a higher probable cause standard should be used.

“The tactic is so dangerous at the very least it should be probable cause,” she said. Officers should not be chasing someone unless they are absolutely sure they are going to arrest someone.”

The Toledo case, Bedi said, made clear that officers need to consider when they are chasing someone in unfamiliar or confined territory. But the policy doesn’t say it must stop, only “hints” at it, she said.

Boik, when asked about the idea that officers would stop chasing an armed suspect, acknowledged this will be part of a shift for officers, but that the directive aimed to increase safety for all involved. And ending a chase does not mean the law enforcement action is over.

“When they terminate the pursuit there are other things they have to do (such as) attempt to set up a perimeter,” he said. “Terminating a pursuit does not absolve that person from taking law enforcement action. This is not a mechanism to stop pursuing people. It is a mechanism to make sure we are doing it safely.”

The policy also states that running away alone is not a reason to chase a person. And it offers specific examples for officers on when chases are either prohibited or allowed. Officers can chase someone if they were believed to have committed certain misdemeanors such as aggravated assault and battery but cannot chase someone believed to have committed lower-level misdemeanors such as simple assault or criminal trespassing to land.

Boik said he hopes to issue the final policy in the next 30 days. Once it’s released, then the policy will go through the department’s required two-year review cycle.

Other experts in Chicago, while acknowledging the formulation of a policy is overdue, said the directive still fell short by not having a strong enough legal standard to justify a chase.

“While CPD finally recognizes the perilous nature of foot chases by armed officers, it lacks other critical protections,” Michelle Garcia, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Illinois, said in an emailed statement, pointing to the language that allows officers to chase people suspected of misdemeanors like shoplifting and some traffic offenses.

In a statement, the ALCU of Illinois also noted that the policy allows officers to consider the criminal activity in a neighborhood when they are weighing a chase, calling it one of the biggest concerns about the policy.

“… Perhaps most important, the new policy encourages — encourages — foot chases in neighborhoods that are ‘known for certain criminal activity,’” the statement reads. “That language invites chases in Black and Brown neighborhoods across the City, raising the danger of violence from police in areas that have suffered too much violence already.”

Boik defended the reasonable suspicion standard, saying that this is the same standard officers are taught to use in making stops. He said it was important for the training around constitutional issues to be consistent. He also said officers cannot initiate a chase based on a neighborhood alone; they must have a “valid law enforcement reason” to detain a person.

Officers will go through a 30-minute e-learning course on the policy that will include a test afterward, and then the foot-pursuit policy will be included in the eight-hour constitutional policing course that is a part of officers’ required 40-hour training curriculum.

Boik said it’s difficult to talk about things in hindsight, especially when no policy was in place at the time.

“There are a different set of circumstances and thoughts that run through the officer’s head prior to the policy existing than what we would hope would be, so I think it’s unfair to do that comparison or characterization of prior events,” he said.

Oscar Martinez, Alvarez’s father, said that while nothing will bring his son back, he hopes his death will bring change to the department’s policies and prevent others from becoming victims of police shootings.

“I miss my son a lot. It’s been almost a year,” Martinez said. “We won’t stop until there is justice. We won’t stop fighting and protesting in his name to bring justice.”

Chicago Tribune’s Stephanie Casanova contributed to this story.

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