CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) - A Chicago Police commander was shot fatally Tuesday afternoon at the Thompson Center downtown while he was off-duty helping other officers, authorities said.
Cmdr. Paul Bauer of the 18th District was shot by a man while assisting a tactical team that was chasing a man who had run away from them after acting suspiciously.
Bauer, 53, was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The shooter is in custody and the weapon has been recovered, Supt. Eddie Johnson said.
Bauer is the first Chicago Police officer shot to death on or off duty since the 2011 slaying of Officer Clifton Lewis. Bauer is among 13 Chicago Police officers shot to death since 1998.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was on a business trip to Los Angeles when the fatal shooting occurred.
A statement released by the mayor's office quoted Emanuel as saying that the "hearts of every Chicagoan are heavy as we mourn the loss" of a popular district commander who "stood for the highest ideals" of a Chicago Police Department sworn to serve and protect the people of Chicago.
"His death is a tragic reminder of the dangerous duty the men and women of our police department accept to ensure the safety of us all," the mayor was quoted as saying.
Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham, in a statement ,said, "The Fop and its members mourn the senseless and tragic loss of Commander Bauer and ask for prayers for him and his family."
Bauer was the commander of the Near North District.
He was shot several times while helping his fellow officers, said Johnson, who was visibly upset at a Tuesday afternoon news conference outside Northwestern.
Bauer was previously the commander of the department's mounted patrol unit.
He was in charge of the mounted unit in 2013 when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Officers on 30 horses kept control of the streets in Wrigleyville after people broke down police barricades.
Bauer was involved with the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, which assists the families of fallen and injured officers.
He helped with the Horses of Honor project, in which 6-foot-tall, 6-foot-long horse statues were displayed downtown. Each horse, decorated by local artists, carried a minimum donation of $2,500 for the foundation.
All but one of the horses was named after officers who died.
At the Thompson Center, after the shooting, hundreds of onlookers peered over police tape as the crime scene brought the normally bustling downtown intersection to an eerie standstill at the start of rush hour.
Norman Talley said he was standing inside the Thompson Center entrance when he heard a volley of gunshots and saw police officers swarming as hundreds of people scrambled outside.
Talley said he saw officers take a middle-aged man into custody, before paramedics wheeled out a person on a stretcher, covered by a blood-soaked white sheet, he said.
"Shocking. I'm still shaking," he said.
Attorney Deborah Martinez said she was walking into a courtroom on the 11th floor of the Daley Center when she saw people gathering by the window looking down on a sea of police vehicles gathering across the street outside the Thompson Center.
Martinez said she saw paramedics performing chest compressions on a person covered by a white sheet atop a stretcher.
"Right here in the Loop. It's insane," Martinez said.
Dan Ryan was chatting with an acquaintance outside the Thompson Center entrance when he saw a man bolting out of a Starbucks on Clark Street and a few people chasing after him.
"I thought he had swiped a purse or something," Ryan said.
The person ran down a stairwell at the Thompson Center, and that's when Ryan heard the shots.
"By the second gunshot, I was running. It was like a movie. Everybody was scrambling like it was a terrorist attack," Ryan said.
Ryan said he didn't get a good look at the man fleeing. Cops were on the scene in seconds, he said.
At City Hall, aldermen remembered a dedicated, outstanding officer.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) got word about the fatal shooting while he and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) were in a City Hall conference room waiting to meet with Bauer to discuss expanding cooperation between the 18th District and Northwestern University police.
That followed a recent shooting that shattered the windows at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and an increase in street crime in Streeterville.
"He was the best police commander in the 18th District during the 20 years I lived there. He loved the job. He had a passion for the job. He was a good man. We lost one of the best today. It's devastating. I don't have words," said Hopkins, who rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital when he heard the news.
"If it turns out that he responded to something that he just happened to observe while he was on his way to a meeting in City Hall, that would be very much like him. He would not be a guy to look the other way when someone needed help."
Every time there was a carjacking or another high-profile crime that commanded public attention, Bauer understood that his job was not only to apprehend the suspects, but to work with local elected officials and community leaders, Hopkins said.
"We have a job to do, too. He didn't see us as an annoyance or a distraction. He saw us as partners and co-equals trying to help him address the need to keep our streets safer. It was a pleasure and an honor to work with a man like that," Hopkins said.
"His loss is devastating. He is truly the kind of cop you want making decisions about how to protect us."
In a recent interview with WCIU-TV, Bauer talked about the monthly "Coffee with the Commander" he held with 18th District residents and business leaders in an effort to rebuild the shattered trust between citizens and police.
"It's just a great mix of the community to come in there and talk," Bauer said.
"There's a perception out there that there's this wall -- that there's a lot of mistrust with the Police Department. [But] from my perspective, I've never been thanked more for my service in the last two-to-three years, compared to the previous 28 years. There's huge support."