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Clarence Page: If Chicago is in hot pursuit of a better police chase policy, why is it moving so slowly?
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Clarence Page: If Chicago is in hot pursuit of a better police chase policy, why is it moving so slowly?

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Clarence Page

Clarence Page

If Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s recent call for a new police foot-pursuit policy made you feel a twinge of what Yogi Berra is said to have called “deja vu all over again,” maybe you have good memory. We’ve been here before.

Five years ago a groundbreaking Chicago Tribune analysis of every police shooting from 2010 through 2015 found that foot chases played a role in more than a third of the 235 cases that ended with someone wounded or killed.

Four years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice called for the formulation of a police foot-chase policy. The issue later became part of the city’s consent decree with the Justice Department, a wide-ranging court order that went into effect two years ago to force reforms to training, discipline and supervision in the troubled department.

Last June, court-appointed watchdog Maggie Hickey, a former federal prosecutor, reported that the city had missed more than 70% of its deadlines during the first year of the decree. The delays included a Jan. 1 deadline to review foot pursuits that led to use of force, although the report credited the city for “significant strides” in the area.

Now the issue percolates under the watch of Mayor Lightfoot, who came to prominence as chair of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force. Five years ago the task force cited “troubling practices,” such as shooting “at the backs of fleeing suspects,” to call for “a fundamental rethinking of the current use-of-force policies.”

That call took on new urgency in March after Chicago police Officer Eric Stillman chased 13-year-old Adam Toledo down an alley at 2:30 a.m., ordered him to “drop it” and, judging by his bodycam video, appeared to shoot the youth a fraction of a second after — or perhaps while — the teen lifted up his empty hands. A gun was found behind a fence where the boy had emerged.

And the controversial chases go on. Two days after Toledo was fatally shot in the Little Village community on March 29, police fatally shot Anthony Alvarez, 22, after chasing him on foot in Portage Park.

Body-camera and surveillance footage show a Chicago police officer firing several times as Alvarez flees with his back turned to the officer. Alvarez falls to the ground and drops what authorities identified as a firearm.

“Why are you shooting me?” Alvarez asks as he moans in someone’s front yard.

“You had a gun!” an officer shouts back.

Although it remains unclear why Alvarez was being chased, having a gun in such circumstances often has been enough to justify an officer’s use of deadly force.

But should that be enough? Foot-pursuit policy is one of many issues that beg for clarity, even as new chases mount. The Chicago Police Department reports 1,300 foot pursuits from March to December 2020. About a third, or 382, resulted in the use of force, CPD says, and 30 resulted in use of deadly force.

That’s not the only policy that calls for “rethinking,” nor is Chicago the only city trying to rethink it. One recent example of surprisingly good news under a consent decree is Newark, which ended 2020 without its officers firing a single shot during the calendar year. The city’s crime rate declined and they didn’t have to pay a dime to settle any new police brutality cases.

Newark’s good fortune came after a consent decree concluded in 2014 that the city’s Police Department had “rot that had infested in the department for decades.”

That sounds familiar. I love Chicago and, of course, every city is different. But Newark’s success offers a promising example of what can be done, not by “abolishing” the police, as some radicals suggest, but by police, political and community leaders working together to, yes, rethink policing.

E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com. Page’s column is provided by Tribune Content Agency.

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