An analysis by the Chicago Tribune of every police shooting from 2010 through 2015 found that foot chases played a role in more than a third of the 235 cases that ended with someone wounded or killed. About half of the pursuits began routinely, as police attempted to stop or question people for curfew violations, public drinking, thefts, disturbance calls, or other minor offenses. Nearly a quarter of those killed by police during foot chases were struck only in the back, a factor often cited in civil rights lawsuits questioning the threat actually posed to officers. Those same factors played out in the police department’s most recent controversial fatal shooting, of Paul O’Neal, an unarmed black teen who was wounded in the back in late July after bailing out of a stolen car and leading officers on a foot chase.
Experts say changes in how and when officers are allowed to chase suspects on foot will likely be an outcome of the ongoing probe by the U.S. Justice Department. At least a dozen previous Justice Department probes of police departments over the past two decades have called for establishing specific guidelines on foot chases. Other cities have implemented policies on their own after controversial police shootings involving foot pursuits. Federal investigators will be interested in how police shootings have disproportionately affected minorities. While African Americans made up 80 percent of all those shot by police in the six-year span examined by the Tribune, an even higher number of those shot during foot chases were black: 94 percent.