Unanswered Questions in Police Pursuit Tragedy

A Tuesday morning crash which killed two people, including an off-duty Chicago Police officer, raises new questions in the continuing controversy over high-speed police chases in Chicago.

In the latest incident, Chicago police said officers thought they had spotted a car used in a carjacking on the West Side June 10th. In actuality, it was an off-duty officer. Investigators said he fled, eventually crashing into another car at Roosevelt and Kostner, killing 27 year old Chequita Adams.

Why that officer allegedly fled isn’t clear. A source close to the investigation told NBC 5 Investigates that the chase was captured on numerous police POD cameras. And that efforts were underway to determine if a red-light camera might have captured the actual crash.

What is known is that a police chase in Chicago is a complicated affair. In 12 pages of instructions, officers are told that chases are only to be initiated, when “the necessity to immediately apprehend the fleeing suspect outweighs the level of inherent danger created by a motor vehicle pursuit.”

That General Order, updated in March of last year, says that a balancing test is to be used to determine the propriety of all chases, taking into account factors such as the volume of pedestrian traffic, weather and road conditions. Chases are not to be undertaken at all for non-hazardous traffic offenses, or if there is an “arrestee or non-law enforcement personnel” in the police vehicle.

“Members will also remain aware that they will not be able to apprehend every motorist they have probable cause to arrest,” the order states. “The decision to terminate a motor vehicle pursuit, may be the most reasonable course of action.”

In the Tuesday morning incident, the pursuing officers, a gang team out of Area Central, thought they had spotted a black Jeep used in a carjacking two weeks ago near Augusta and Wood. In that incident, the offenders rammed a woman from behind, then took her car.

The car in question had a White Sox vanity plate. So did the off-duty officer’s Jeep. But police concede it was the wrong car.

“It really was an unnecessary loss of life,” said Superintendent Eddie Johnson. And it’s just a tragedy.”

Police audio obtained by NBC 5 Investigates, shows a call coming from the pursuing officers, advising that “I just had a black Cherokee take off.”

But just 12 seconds later, it’s all over.

“Squad, Kostner and Roosevelt---Cherokee just got into a bad accident.”

In actuality, the incident began at Independence and Roosevelt, when the gang team said they saw the Jeep coast thru a stop sign. The intersection where the car crashed, was 12 blocks away.

“There are many things that we don’t know,” said attorney Anthony Romanucci, who has represented the families of multiple bystanders killed during police chases. “Did they get permission for the chase, was the balancing test employed here, what was the risk to the public?”

Romanucci contends the tragedy sadly illustrates the dangers associated with police pursuits in a congested city like Chicago.

“This is why those general orders have been revamped time and time again,” he said. “To try and limit chases only when absolutely necessary.”

The Chicago General Order is 12 pages long, and describes numerous circumstances where chases should not occur. Romanucci argues that even at the level of a carjacking, if no one was harmed, a chase in a residential neighborhood is hard to justify.

“I believe that you don’t chase,” he said. “Because something bad happens.”

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