Chicago PD, Jay Halstead
Credit: NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Since he left the Chicago Police Department’s 21st District (and his wife, Hailey Upton), fans have been left with endless questions as to why Jay Halstead left Chicago P.D. and what happened to Jesse Lee Soffer’s character.

Chicago P.D. is NBC’s drama series following the personal and professional lives of patrol officers and Intelligence Unit detectives at the Intelligence Unit of Chicago Police Department’s fictional 21st District. The show is a spinoff of Chicago Fire, Chicago Med and Chicago Justice, which exist in the same universe. Soffer played Senior Detective Jay Halstead, a former Army Ranger who works as a detective in the Intelligence Unit. He’s also the older brother of Dr. Will Halstead, an attending physician at the Gaffney Chicago Medical Center, on Chicago Med.

After 10 seasons on Chicago P.D., Halstead — and Soffer — left the series in 2022. So why did Jay Halstead leave Chicago P.D.? Read on for the real reason Jay Halstead left Chicago P.D. and what happened to Jesse Lee Soffer’s character.

Why did Jay Halstead leave Chicago P.D.?

CHICAGO P.D. -- "New Guard" Episode 918 -- Pictured: Jesse Lee Soffer as Jay Halstead -- (Photo by: Lori Allen/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Why did Jay Halstead leave Chicago P.D.? Jesse Lee Soffer — who played Halstead since season 1 of Chicago P.D. — explained to Variety in 2023 that he left the show after 10 seasons because he wanted “more” as an actor. “I’ve thought so hard about how to answer this question — and there’s no good answer. Except I was ready for more,” Soffer said when asked why he left Chicago P.D.  “Eventually, you know the character so well, there’s not much that can shift or transform.”

Despite the limitations of playing the same role for 10 seasons, Soffer told Variety that he was thankful to Halstead’s storyline in season 9 of Chicago Fire, which saw him marry Hailey Upton, another detective at the 21st District’s Intelligence Unit, and become the second in command to Sergeant Hank Voight. Still, it wasn’t enough to stay for another full season.  “I really wanted to grow and expand, and we’ve only got this one trip. If I signed up again, it would have been for another three years. I would have turned 40 on the show. I thought, ‘You know what? It’s time to take a risk,’” Soffer said. “It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life. Let’s be honest: I love the fans of our show so much, and I love my fans. I know that they’re still grieving this, and to some degree, I am too.”

Soffer also explained to TV Insider in March 2023 that he left Chicago P.D. to “stretch” and “learn” as an actor. “What does more look like? This. You want to grow and playing the same character,” he said. “An episodic TV show is 10 months of a commitment every year and it’s really long hours and it’s difficult work. It’s really rewarding work and very fulfilling work. But at some point, you know that character so well, and as an actor, you want to do other stuff and you want to grow and you want to stretch and you want to keep learning. If we stop learning, what’s the point? And I really wanted to see if I could direct and learn and I got that opportunity to shadow. So I’m doing it. That’s what this is right now. You want to grow. You don’t want to stop growing.”

What happened to Jay Halstead on Chicago P.D.?

CHICAGO P.D. -- "In The Dark" Episode 904 -- Pictured: Jesse Lee Soffer as Jay Halstead -- (Photo by: Lori Allen/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

What happened to Jay Halstead on Chicago P.D.? Halstead’s last episode of Chicago P.D. was season 10, episode 3, “A Good Man,” in which he was sent on a task with the United States Army to take down the cartel in Bolivia. The episode — which saw him leave his wife, Hailey Upton, behind as he went on the mission — ended with Hailey learning on a phone call from Halstead’s boss that he’s extended his trip, despite telling her that he wanted to make their relationship work.

“I know the fans are upset be­cause, like, ‘This isn’t the Jay that we know and love! Why isn’t he calling? Why is he doing this?!’ But, you know, the show must go on,” Soffer told Variety. “I don’t think I really have the right to feel any way about that. The writers have to do what they have to do to service the story and the characters that are still there. Also, our show’s pretty dark, and they love diving into the ugliest, hardest version of life. So for Hailey to have to go through this, it probably just made sense.” He continued, “He’s deeply flawed, because everybody on ‘Chicago P.D.’ is. But he’s definitely a good person, with really good motives.”

Soffer also confirmed to TV Line in March 2023 that, just because he played Halstead, that doesn’t mean he agreed with how his character treated his wife. “Just because Jay is the white knight on the show, or has been the foil to Voight’s character, doesn’t mean that Jesse feels the way that Jay does,” he said. “I think one of the things that makes it great is how much we live in the gray area and how far we’re willing to push the boundary of a viewer to go, ‘Man, this guy is doing some really off-the-rails, illegal stuff, but I still respect that he’s doing it because it seems like someone’s got to do it.’ I didn’t fight that urge [to step in as Halstead] at all. In fact, I really wanted to lean into the Voight of it.” Though Soffer didn’t agree with Halstead’s actions, he did defend him from fans who believe he ghosted Hailey. “He had a conversation about how he had to go,” he said.

As for where Halstead is now, Soffer told TV Line that it’s not up to him to imagine his character’s storyline. “I can’t speak to what he’s doing now,” Soffer said. “I think [showrunner Gwen Sigan] and the writers have a plan, and it’s their responsibility to take care of the character… Our show’s a pretty dark show, so I would just say trust the process.”

In his interview with Variety, Soffer explained that he told the creators of Chicago P.D. about his plans to leave the series after season 9. He agreed to return for three episodes in season 10 film a proper exit for Halstead — with the request he could direct an episode. “I hadn’t really brought it up to anyone, but it was something I was willing to fight for,” Soffer said, explaining that he became interested in directing five seasons into Chicago P.D.

Less than two weeks after he filmed “A Good Man,” Soffer returned to Chicago P.D. to shadow director Bethany Rooney, who has directed shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Arrow. He started “as an observer” before directing his own episode of Chicago P.D., which aired on March 22, 2023. Soller described the episode — which was titled “Deadlocked” and was episode 16 of season 10 — as “a little old school.” The episode follows Sergeant Henry “Hank” Voight, as he goes off the books. “It was like I never left,” Soffer said. “Some of it was effortless. Some of it was frustrating. Some of it was super rewarding. Some of it was humbling. It was easier than I thought it was gonna be, because we’re storytellers in this industry, and I love telling stories. When I’d get a script that was a Halstead-centric story, I’d break that sucker down so much, calling the producers with suggestions. I’ve been doing that all along, so it was an easy shift.

As for how his former co-star Jason Beghe, who plays Voight, reacted to his directing, Sofer told Variety, “In his raspy voice, he was like, ‘Bro, as far as maiden voyages go, this is effing spectacular.’” Beghe also called Soffer a “wonderfully talented actor” in his own comment to Variety. He continued, “More importantly, he is a fantastic human being. And he has the potential, if he has the interest, to become a world-class director.” Soffer referred Beghe, who has starred on Chicago P.D. with him since season 1, as his “brother.” “Jason and I have become brothers. You’re in the trenches together, making this thing what it is and pouring your heart and soul into it — blood, sweat and tears for a decade,” Soffer said. “So there’s a lot of him in me probably, and a lot of me and him.”

Though he now has experience with directing, Soffer told Variety that he still wants to act and has the goal of becoming the lead of his own ensemble show. “P.D. is an ensemble — Jason’s definitely the lead and the strong patriarch on that show. I definitely think I’m ready to be a lead on a show and to have my own show,” he said. “I’d put all of my heart and soul into it.”

Despite his dream of leading his own show, Soffer — who also told Variety that he wants to be in a period piece or a show by Taylor Sheridan, the creator of Yellowstone — explained that he’s open to anything, even another show set in a cold city like Chicago.  “You have to be a family when it’s zero degrees in the middle of February and you’re working at 2 a.m.,” he said. “It’s such a family. Dysfunctional sometimes, as all families are.”

While he’s done as Halstead for now, Soffer also confirmed that he’s open to returning to Chicago P.D. for guest appearances in the future. “Definitely not,” Soffer says. “Never say never. I feel so bad for the fans that are like, ‘Is he going to come back?’ ‘What’s he going to do?’ ‘What’s going on with him and Hailey?’ he said. “I like to think — and I hope the fans think this too — that he’s just in another country right now, doing what he does best and making the world a safer place. In a family, sometimes somebody moves away or goes to college somewhere else. I still love it. I still love the fans. And I still love Halstead. Halstead’s always going to be in my blood. That’s never going to change.”

Soffer also told TV Line that he would love to direct an episode of Chicago Med, which stars Nick Gehlfuss as Halstead’s brother, Dr. Will Halstead. “I would love to direct Nick. That would be a lot of fun,” Soffer said. “He even said, ‘You should come and do it.’ Who knows what’s next? I’m not opposed to it.”

Chicago P.D. airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.

For more more on the One Chicago franchise, check out our photo gallery of Chicago Fire stars and their real-life loves