Foot chases have long been a routine and accepted part of what police officers do: when someone runs from an officer, the officer goes after them.

These persecutions can end catastrophically, with confrontations in which suspects are more likely than police officers be hurt or killed, investigation finds In Memphis last month, police officers chased Tire Nichols on foot after a traffic stop, then beat him to death when they caught him. Five officers were charged with second degree murder.

However, the Memphis Police Department does not have a policy specifying how officers should handle foot pursuits, and neither do most American police agencies.

But that has begun to change, after a series of high-profile police killings that followed foot chases in other cities, including Chicago; Sacramento, Calif.; baltimore; and Las Vegas, fueled a sprawling effort to limit such activities. Footage from officers’ body cameras has given the public a firsthand look at how chases can turn deadly. studies in different parts in the country have found that a significant proportion, ranging from 12% to 48%, of police shootings occurred after foot chases.

“Everybody knows this is a problem,” said Chris Burbank, a former Salt Lake City police chief and now vice president of the Center for Policing Equity, which helps police departments find ways to reduce the use of force.

More than a decade ago, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department became one of the first in the country to create a foot pursuit policy after receiving strong criticism for a high number of fatal shootings. Hoping to avoid a federal investigation, the agency sought help from police reform experts from the Center for Policing Equity and the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Experts found that a disproportionate number of use-of-force incidents occurred after foot chases, Burbank said.

new from the department foot chase policy it required officers to consider the risk to themselves and the person they are pursuing, and to seek alternatives, such as calling for backup to surround the person. The policy also requires a supervisor to review what happened. The new policy was among several changes credited with helping department reduce your use of force.

Burbank reviewed the Memphis Police Department’s policies and procedures for NBC News. He said The document includes some valuable guidelines on when police officers may use deadly force, including the prohibition against killing someone fleeing arrest for a nonviolent crime. The Memphis Police Department also has a policy that restricts car chases; such policies became common across the country in response to fatal accidents in the 1980s and 1990s.

But there’s nothing in the Memphis policy document to guide officers on when it’s okay to pursue someone on foot and how to avoid using unnecessary force if the person is caught, Burbank said. “I think it’s absolutely lacking in this particular circumstance,” Burbank said.

Officer Christopher Williams, a spokesman for the Memphis Police Department, acknowledged in an email that there was «no direct policy regarding foot pursuits.» Asked if there was any other type of policy or training that addressed foot chases, Williams said officers were trained «on a wide variety of topics,» including communications during a foot chase.

The Memphis Police Union did not respond to requests for comment. A former union leader, Mike Williams, who left the force in 2020, said that while the department grants broad latitude in pursuing people on foot, it restricts when officers can use deadly force. The department likely did not adopt a foot pursuit policy because, before Nichols’ death, it had no reason to, he said.

“I don’t know if foot chases have been a problem in the city of Memphis,” Williams said.

But some activists said they had heard for years from people who said officers used excessive force against them after a foot chase. “It has been a problem,” said activist Casio Montez. «Only after Tire is it getting national attention.»

In recent weeks, activists have pushed the Memphis Police Department to hire an independent investigator, and the City Council is considering measures that would mandate regular audits of police training methods.

Walking activities have not been the main focus of advocates who have demanded change since Nichols’ death. But when asked about the idea of ​​a foot chase policy, they said they’d like to see one.

“Something needs to be codified in the Memphis Police Department’s policies and procedures,” said Van Turner Jr., president of the Memphis chapter of the NAACP. “You’d think something like that would already be there. But we need to have something there in the future.»

Sometimes foot chases are essential to police work, law enforcement officials say, particularly in situations where someone poses a danger to the public or has just committed a violent crime. The policies that cities have adopted do not prohibit persecution, but rather aim to ensure that it does not lead to the use of excessive force.

Sacramento Police adopted a foot chase policy in 2018, following the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Stephon Clark during a foot chase. The policy requires officers to weigh their own safety, as well as that of the person being pursued and that of the rest of the community, when deciding whether a pursuit is worth it.

Daniel Hahn, who was police chief at the time, said in an interview last week that the idea of ​​a foot chase policy was new to him. Until then, it was considered common practice for an officer to chase anyone running from them, he said. Not doing so would have seemed as if they were simply letting the criminals go.

“It was the questioning from the community of officers chasing someone in a backyard that really got me thinking about it,” Hahn said.

Hahn, who is now retired, said a foot pursuit policy alone is only one element in reducing the use of force. But he believes the new foot pursuit policy likely saved lives, including those of the officers.

“Protect everyone,” Hahn said.