September 17, 2021 18:09

Chicago Ignored Flaws in Police Pursuit Policy Despite Crashes, Emails Reveal

A report included in a trove of hacked City Hall emails belonging to several of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s closest advisers reveals that, despite two-thirds of the 270 police chases in 2019 — a total of 180 — ending in crashes and eight people dying, it was nearly a year before Chicago’s policy on pursuits was finally changed, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Supervisors ordered chases to be terminated in 112 of those pursuits, yet half of them still ended in crashes and one caused the death of a bystander, according to the report. Emails also show that Lightfoot kept a close watch on police pursuits and, in at least one instance, asked if the city was liable to get sued and whether the city could incentivize the police for accident-free days. Two months after a horrific crash on the North Side last June, before which officers had been told at least four times to stop chasing the suspect whose car t-boned Guadalupe Francisco-Martinez’s SUV, a mother of six, killing her and injuring five others, a new policy went into effect clarifying language on how supervisors should conduct a “balancing test,” weighing the risk of a chase against the risk of letting someone escape.

The policy also mandated that marked police cars take the lead in chases, and that lights and sirens always be used. It’s unclear if the new policy has worked because the Chicago Police Department and the mayor’s office have not released any new data on pursuits. Chicago has revised its chase policy several times over the last two decades in an attempt to reduce crashes. Lawsuits from Chicago police pursuit crashes account for the largest share of payouts in terms of both settlements and verdicts, according to the city’s Report on Chicago Police Department 2019 Litigation. More than $6 million in settlements, or 30 percent of all settlements paid out by Chicago, were for wrongful death lawsuits related to police vehicle pursuits in 2019. And $21 million in verdicts, or 74 percent of all verdict payouts that year, went to people suing the city in fatal vehicle pursuit cases. The city spent more than $2 million a year on crash repair costs for police vehicles between 2016 and 2019.

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