Chicago Mayor: Police should get permission before chasing anyone

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

So is this what “police reform” looks like in Chicago? Hot on the heels of both Derek Chauvin’s conviction and the shooting of knife-wielding teen Ma’Khia Bryant, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot believes she’s identified a starting point for getting some of these out-of-control cops to toe the line. Lightfoot has apparently noticed that suspects who are confronted by law enforcement don’t always quietly follow instructions and cooperate with law enforcement officers. In fact, some of them turn and flee to avoid being arrested. (Can you imagine?) During such pursuits, police are often put in a position where they have to use physical force to bring the suspect under control. To add another layer of protection to the suspects, Lightfoot is proposing that the police first contact a supervisor and obtain permission before giving chase. Really, people… you just can’t make this stuff up. (NY Post)

Police officers in Chicago may soon require permission from a supervisor before pursuing a suspect on foot, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday.

Lightfoot promised to disclose details “soon” about a police policy change, Fox 32 Chicago reported.

“No one should die as a result of a foot chase,” the mayor said.

Police methods have faced new scrutiny recently following the release last week of video footage from the March 29 police shooting death of 13-year-old Adam Toledo. The case has sparked new debate on police use of deadly force.

You don’t need to be a graduate of the Police Academy to immediately understand the implications of this suggested policy. If the police see a perpetrator in the act of committing a crime or identify an individual with an outstanding warrant who flees when they see an officer in uniform, by the time that officer can radio into the dispatch desk and they locate a supervisor to give permission, the suspect will be long gone. (Unless the wanted individual is in a wheelchair or on crutches, I suppose.) Once word of a policy such as this reaches the gangs on the streets of Chicago, nobody is ever going to simply put their hands up and cooperate with the police again. Why would you when you know that the cops can’t chase you down?

One member of the Chicago City Council who agrees with Lightfoot is Alderman Brian Hopkins. He told journalists that the police already need permission to begin a vehicular chase of suspects, so this would just be an extension of that policy to cover foot chases. As to the fact that pretty much every suspect who is on foot will escape, Hopkins said, “the point would be moot then.”

Having previously dealt with the issue of car chases by the police in New York (which can frequently result in traffic accidents), I can tell you how that works. It’s true that many states require officers to get clearance for a vehicular chase from the dispatch center. But in virtually all cases, by the time the police have identified a vehicle that needs to be pulled over and they radio in the request, they’re already following the subject’s car. They’ll probably hold off on going Code 3 (lights and siren engaged) until they’re cleared for pursuit, but they’ll be keeping the subject’s vehicle in sight until then. The two situations are not at all the same.

As for the situation being “moot” once the suspect has fled the scene, I suppose Hopkins is correct. After the perpetrator has gotten away there’s probably not much use in bothering to call the dispatch desk at all. So apparently the Alderman is fine with nobody being arrested. (Which may have been the point all along.)

Even the Mayor seemed to understand the silliness of this proposal, at least to some degree. When a reporter asked her about the obvious result of making the police wait before giving chase, she said, “I don’t want people out there who are dangerous to think, ‘Well, if I just run, then I’m safe. I can continue to wreak havoc. We can’t live in that world, either.”

Not for nothing, your honor, but this is pretty much a binary choice. Your police are either going to try to arrest the bad guys or they aren’t. You can’t have it both ways.

The problem with nearly all of these efforts to “reform” the police is that you can’t always have inflexible rules for how an encounter with a suspect is handled. Almost everything in policing is situational. Probably 99 out of 100 times, when a patrol car turns on its lights, the driver of the suspect vehicle will pull over and get out their license and registration. It’s that hundredth time when they punch the gas and pull a Glock out of their waistband when decisions have to be made in a split second and things can go badly awry in either direction. The same goes for the apprehension of suspects on foot.

The bottom line once again is that people with little or no experience in law enforcement shouldn’t be making up the rules for police procedures. When that happens, you wind up with nonsensical headlines such as this one.