A Chicago police commander who had complained about the difficulty of keeping violent criminals off the streets was fatally shot Tuesday while pursuing a suspect in the Loop in a rare outburst of daytime gun violence downtown.
Cmdr. Paul Bauer, 53, was shot to death at the Thompson Center after chasing a man fleeing from tactical officers who tried to stop him, police officials said. Bauer, a 31-year-veteran who had been in the area for training and had a meeting with aldermen scheduled later, confronted the man, according to police officials and other sources. He opened fire, hitting the commander multiple times, police said.
Officers apprehended a suspect who multiple sources identified as a 44-year-old four-time felon and former prison inmate with an arrest record dating back to at least 1994. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in a 1998 for robbery. The Tribune is not identifying him because he had not been charged as of Tuesday evening.
Officers recovered a gun from the man, who was wearing a protective vest, according to a source.
Bauer, the married father of a 13-year-old daughter, is the first Chicago cop shot and killed since 2011, and he is the highest-ranking officer killed in decades.
The incident briefly pitched the heart of Chicago’s business and governmental district into turmoil as emergency vehicles screamed down streets, office-workers looked on from sidewalks on a cold, gray day and police cordoned off sections of the downtown district that includes the engines of state, city and county government. Crestfallen officers grouped outside Northwestern Memorial Hospital before Superintendent Eddie Johnson, appearing to choke back tears, announced that Bauer had died.
Shortly after that, officers on foot and horseback saluted as a procession of more than a dozen police vehicles pulled away from the hospital to accompany the ambulance on its way to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
“I just ask the citizens of this city to keep the Bauer family in their prayers,” Johnson said.
After ascending the department ranks, Bauer assumed leadership in 2016 of the Near North District, just north of where he was shot. In that role, he publicly vented frustration about the difficulty of clearing repeat offenders from the street— a common refrain among Chicago police and political officials who confront a stubborn violent crime rate driven in part by recidivism.
“We’re not talking about the guy who stole a loaf of bread from the store to feed his family,” he said in November 2017, according to the Loop North News. “We’re talking about career robbers, burglars, drug dealers. These are all crimes against the community. They need to be off the street.”
On Bauer’s street in the South Side’s Bridgeport neighborhood, neighbors remembered him as a considerate family man who attended services at the Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church. After the recent snowstorm, he used his snowblower to clear the sidewalk for the whole block, neighbors said.
A neighbor who asked not to be identified spoke with tears in his eyes as he shoveled his mother’s car out of the snow Tuesday evening.
“I could count on Paul to come and help me with this right now,” he said.
The incident started just before 2 p.m. as a police tactical team sought to question a man near State Street and Wacker Driveabout “possibly some connection to a shooting,” department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.said. The man took off running.
Recorded police radio traffic captured an officer saying, “Don’t anybody get hurt. We just wanted to do a street stop on him.”
Bauer heard the radio traffic, saw a man matching the description and tried to approach and question him in or near a stairwell, according to Guglielmi. A struggle ensued and Bauer, was shot multiple times.
Bauer was in uniform, Guglielmi said.
The tactical officers apprehended the man, and Bauer was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after 2 p.m.
Across the street from the Thompson Center, Noreen Janko said she was walking back to her office building when she heard shots.
“I heard ‘pop pop pop pop pop,’ ” Janko said. “And I said to the girl next to me, ‘Is that what I think it is?’ And she said, ‘Yep.’ I said, ‘Aw geez.’”
Two women who work at a bank in the Thompson Center said they heard shots and later saw a person being wheeled away on a stretcher with a sheet over him.
“I’m a little traumatized,” said Darlene Marrero.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was preparing to board a flight in Los Angeles to head home Tuesday afternoon when he was told of the shooting. He arrived in Chicago around 7 p.m. and headed straight to a meeting with Johnson, the mayor’s staff said. Emanuel said in a statement that Bauer’s death was a sad reminder of the perils of police work.
“Commander Bauer stood for the highest ideals of our police department and our city – to serve and protect the people of Chicago,” the statement said.
A statement from the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation called his death “senseless.”
“The idea that Paul would act so unselfishly and would sacrifice his own safety for the safety of the people of Chicago and his fellow officers comes as no surprise to those of us who knew him,” the statement read.
Tuesday evening, firefighters at a station near Bauer’s police district headquarters lowered their flags to half-staff. Anthony Goulet, 13, came to pay his respects to the officer he said he had recently met at a community event.
“He was nice and caring, and he wanted me to make sure I had my good grades,” the boy said.
Command officers represent few of the cops gunned down in city history, though the death of a top officer is not unprecedented. In June 1981, First Deputy Superintendent James J. Riordan was fatally shot in one of the Marina City complex downtown while he was off-duty and trying to disarm a gunman who had been harassing patrons at a restaurant.
Chicago Tribune’s Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas, Dawn Rhodes, Elvia Malagon, Dan Hinkel, Annie Sweeney, Liam Ford, Steve Schmadeke, Jason Meisner, Megan Crepeau, Bill Ruthhart and David Heinzmann contributed.