Tyre Nichols’ controversial death has highlighted the question of whether police departments should enact policies or guidelines preventing officers from engaging in foot chases, which often can have deadly consequences.
In the case of Nichols, he was killed after fleeing from Memphis police during a traffic stop. Five of the officers have since been charged with second-degree murder for beating Nichols to death.
The Memphis Police Department, unlike a growing number of agencies around the country, has yet to enact a policy regulating foot pursuits of fleeing suspects.
Recently, police killings that followed foot chases in cities like Chicago, Sacramento, Baltimore and Las Vegas have initiated efforts to limit foot pursuits.
Studies have also shown that anywhere from 12% to 48% of police shootings come after foot pursuits.
However, the circumstances that lead to warrant pursuits differ case by case.
According to former Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank, now vice president at the Center for Policing Equity, the Las Vegas Metro Police Department became one of the first agencies in the nation to create a policy on foot chases nearly a decade ago.
Las Vegas police’s new foot chase policy requires officers to weigh the risk to themselves and the person they’re pursuing before engaging in a chase, and to consider alternatives such as calling for backup that can reduce the risk to those involved.
The policy also requires a supervisor to review the case afterwards.
Officials have credited the department’s policy with reducing use-of-force incidents.
The Memphis Police Department’s policies and procedures contain guidelines for the use of deadly force, including prohibitions against killing someone fleeing arrest for a nonviolent crime.
The department also restricts car chases to prevent deadly crashes as much as possible.
However, the policies do not touch on when to engage in foot pursuits and how to avoid deadly confrontations.
Officer Christopher Williams, a spokesman for the Memphis Police Department, said in an email to NBC News that there was “no direct policy regarding foot pursuits.”
Williams added that officers were trained “in a wide variety of topics,” including communications during a foot pursuit.
A former head of the city’s police union, Mike Williams, who left the force in 2020, said that the department restricts when officers can use deadly force during foot pursuits.
According to Williams, the city has not had issues with foot pursuits prior to Nichols’ death.
“I don’t know that foot pursuits have been an issue in the city of Memphis,” Williams said.
Activists like Casio Montez said there have been many reports of excessive force used after foot pursuits.
“It’s been a problem. Only after Tyre is it getting national attention,” Montez said.
Since Nichols’ death, activists have been demanding for changes, including launching an independent investigation of the police department.
The city council is also considering regularly auditing police training methods.
Because foot pursuits are essential to catch criminals, law enforcement officials say policies should ensure that pursuits do not lead to excessive force instead of outright banning them.
For instance, in 2018, the Sacramento police enacted a policy following the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark that requires officers to weigh their own safety, the suspect’s and the safety of the rest of the community before committing to a pursuit.
Daniel Hahn, who was police chief in 2018, said foot pursuit policies were a new idea at the time, but said they have worked to reduce the overall use of force.
“It was the community’s questioning of officers chasing someone into a backyard that actually got me to think about it,” Hahn said.