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In Chicago, two fatal foot chases raise years-old policy concerns

▶ Watch Video: Bodycam video shows police fatally shooting Anthony Alvarez

After the fatal police shootings of Adam Toledo and Anthony Alvarez — two young people killed by Chicago police officers just two days apart — body camera footage from the incidents reveals similar elements.

In both cases, an officer left his car late at night to race down an alleyway, chasing after a suspect who was running away. In both cases, an officer appeared to make a split-second decision about whether the suspect posed a threat. And in both cases, police said a gun was found a few feet away from the person who was shot, but the victims’ families disputed that they posed a threat to officers.

Before an officer fired a shot at Toledo, he yelled, “Stop, right f***ing now. Show me your f***ing hands. Stop it.”

Before the officer opened fire on Alvarez, he shouted, “Hey, drop the gun. Drop the gun!”

Both cases ended with an officer fatally shooting a young Latino — 13-year-old Toledo died in the early morning hours of March 29, and 22-year-old Alvarez died shortly after 1 a.m. on March 31.

Adam Toledo, 13, who was shot to death by Chicago police after a foot chase early on March 29, 2021, is seen here in an undated family photo.

CBS Chicago

The two fatal foot chases and their similar elements have reignited calls by activists and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot for the Chicago Police Department to review its foot pursuit practices. 

The city has been aware of concerns over its foot pursuit practices for years, dating back at least to a 2017 report by the Department of Justice. The report called the practice “inherently dangerous” because officers can experience fatigue or adrenaline, which can compromise their ability to make sound judgments or use less force as the threat diminishes.

The Justice Department also found that Chicago police engaged in “tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits” and recommended the city develop a formal foot pursuit policy — something that as of March, it had not yet developed, according to an independent monitoring group.

On Wednesday, as body camera footage from Alvarez’s death was set to be released, Lightfoot said it was unacceptable that a minor traffic offense — for which Alvarez was initially stopped — would result in someone being shot and killed.

“And again,” Lightfoot said, “this shooting involved a foot chase. The department is making progress on my directive to revise the foot chase policy. As I’ve said before, it’s one of the most dangerous activities that officers engage in — dangerous for themselves, dangerous for the person being pursued and dangerous for members of the public.”

Lightfoot said she was hopeful that the city would roll out a new policy sometime in May, and noted that her desire to reform the practice dates back years. She said that as a candidate for mayor in 2018 she had identified foot chases as a “significant challenge that couldn’t be put off to another day.”

Lightfoot joins with activists and other city officials, including Alderman Ariel Reboyras and Alderman Felix Cardona Jr., in calling for the department to issue a formal policy on foot pursuits, something police reform advocates have recommended for years. 

A civil rights lawsuit prompted Chicago to retrain its officers on foot pursuit tactics last year, after a court-mandated monitoring group laid out risks and best practices for the tactic. The group recommended the Chicago Police Department train its officers on circumstances where alternatives to foot pursuits are appropriate, advise officers on the risks involved with a pursuit, provide guidance on radio communications and instruct officers to avoid separating from other officers during a pursuit.

But the department’s independent monitoring team found that despite the training, officers still didn’t have “the requisite buy-in” on policy recommendations. The group wrote in an April report, “There is a sense that these concepts go against the culture of the organization.”

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