Unnecessary police foot chases endanger suspects, officers, and the public

Adam Toledo
Adam Toledo

Last month Streetsblog Chicago looked at how police vehicle chases impact traffic safety, ending in more than a dozen crashes and the deaths of at least three bystanders in the past year. After an officer fatally shot Adam Toledo, 13, during a foot chase last week in Little Village, the Chicago Police Department’s foot-chase policy has come under scrutiny, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot promising today that new protocols will be in place by summer. While the foot pursuit issue is more tangential to Streetsblog’s mission of promoting safer streets, chases can endanger pedestrians on the public way, so I’d like to take a look at this matter.

According to the CPD, on Tuesday, March 30, at 2:36 a.m., officers responded to a ShotSpotter detection system report of eight gunshots in the 2300 block of South Sawyer Avenue. When the police arrived in the alley where the shots were detected, they found two males, including one who had a gun. The males fled, and one of the officers confronted Adam and shot him in the chest. Adam’s family wasn’t notified until two days later, which the police department blamed on difficulty positively identifying the boy, partly due to the other male providing the wrong name.

The CPD has not yet revealed if Adam was holding a gun when he was shot and, if so, whether he was pointing it at the officer. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability stated that it plans to release police body camera footage of the incident pending review of the video by Adam’s family, although it’s not clear when that will happen.

According to a report from NBC Chicago’s Alex Maragos, Chicago police officers take part in an average of seven foot pursuits a day, and over 1,300 chases occurred between March and December of last year. In 30 of these cases officers used deadly force.

Nusrat Choudry, legal director for the ACLU of Chicago, cited a 2017 DOJ report that found that Chicago police “engage in tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits, which too often end with officers unreasonably shooting someone.”

“Foot pursuits have long been a dangerous tactic in the city of Chicago,” Choudry told NBC. “This is a tactic that can harm people. It can place officers at risk, the person who’s being pursued at risk, and members of the public, bystanders at risk.”

The CPD’s foot pursuits training bulletin was updated last year, noting that these chases can put innocent people in harm’s way, NBC reported. The document asked officers to think about factor like the location of the incident, and whether the suspect is armed, before giving chase.

Lightfoot at yesterday's press conference. Image: NBC Chicago
Lightfoot at yesterday’s press conference. Image: NBC Chicago

At yesterday’s news conference, Lightfoot promised that the new foot-chase policy will “reflect the input of focus groups of officers and the community,” as well as best practices from other cities. “No longer can we afford to put off tomorrow what we can address today because lives are truly at stake,”

Police chief David Brown previously revised the Dallas Police Department’s policy when he led that force.

As with vehicle chases, the issue at stake is the need for officers the weigh the potential threat posed to the public if a suspect is not pursued, against the possible harm that could be inflicted by a chase. Writing about police car chases for Streetsblog last month, Sharon Hoyer asked, “In the 21st Century, an age of traffic cameras, satellite images, and police body cams, are police chases necessary? In what circumstances does any immediate danger the suspect presents to the public outweigh the potential for endangering officers, suspects, and innocent bystanders?”

In the tragic case of Adam Toledo, we must ask, did the suspects, including a 13-year-old boy, really pose enough of a danger to public safety that it justified the police giving chase, leading to a confrontation where an officer killed the young teen? The answer appears to be no, and the CPD must create and enforce a new policy to prevent this type of senseless death of a child from causing more heartache in the future.

Watch the NBC report here.

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