Foot Pursuit Tactics
Photo Courtesy: Dale Stockton
Mention foot pursuits to the average street cop, and you ll usually get a smile joined by a widening of the eyes and rise in voice pitch. No doubt foot chases remain some of the most emotionally charged and dangerous contacts officers make. Like high-speed vehicle chases, foot pursuits can definitely get the adrenaline rushing. And like most high-risk contacts, when adrenaline starts flowing, officer safety tactics can go right out the window.
This month s Tactics column examines foot pursuits from two perspectives. First, I ll explain some officer safety tactics you should consider before engaging in your next foot pursuit. Then I’ll identify some suspect tactics Mr. Badguy might use; if you know about them ahead of time, they might make your run shorter, safer and more successful.
Evaluate Before You Chase
Before you decide to engage any suspect in a foot chase, you must consider a number of factors. When you think about it, they re the same factors you evaluate before taking on any perp who resists your presence or verbal commands. Here s a list of questions to ask before pursuing on foot:
- Who am I?
- Who is the suspect?
- What environmental factors are at play?
- Where is this chase taking place?
- What time of day (or night) is it?
- What kind of communications do I have?
If you ve seen the north side of Hwy 50 a few years ago and the only workout facility you ve visited was Rocky s Gym the night before on a silent alarm call, you better think about it before you pursue. Even if you do catch the perp, if you ve burned up all your energy during the rundown, will you have enough left to cuff and stuff your prize catch?
Unless you re an experienced long-distance runner, you can expect to feel the effects of your efforts after the first few blocks. And remember, after about 30 seconds of trying to get Mr. Badguy under control, you re probably going to be sucking wind like super-heavyweight fighter ButterBean after round 14 of a 15-rounder. Remember, catching Mr. Badguy is only part of the job. You ve got to stabilize him, cuff him and radio in your location. You may also have to walk (or drag) him back to where the cavalry is waiting.
You on the Chase
Think of the worst-case scenario. You jump from your squad at night to run down a suspect who s bailed after a traffic stop in a remote location. Your portable radio remains in the vehicle charger right next to your 20,000 candle-power Streamlight the previous driver forgot to recharge. You dropped your expandable baton during the chase, and your OC discharged all over you and the perp during the roll around to get him cuffed. A recipe for disaster? Hey, expect the unexpected; it happens.
I know I’m painting a pretty bleak picture here, but I m also speaking from experience, both my own and my buds on the job at one time or another. Of course, if your suspect looks like ButterBean s mother and the chase was prompted by Mrs. Bean s failure to pay for a 12-pack of Hostess Twinkies from the local Costco, you re probably pretty safe in giving it a go. Still, never drop your guard. Mrs. Bean may have lifted a Kitchen Wizard butcher knife before she spotted the Twinkie dozen.
Next, where and when is this chase taking place? If you think these questions sound a lot like those you must review when deciding whether you should engage in a vehicle pursuit, you re right. As with vehicle pursuits, some locations and environmental factors are better than others. Side streets, alleys, parks and other places within your patrol beat are obviously safer than a housing project you ve never been to before.
Likewise, daytime runs are probably safer from a tactical standpoint than nighttime foot chases. Now that doesn t mean every dirt bag that rabbits after midnight gets a free pass, but blindly running into dark hallways, around buildings or other unlit locations takes some tactical planning. It may be time to back off, regroup and get Jaws and his two-legged partner on the horn.
The Suspect on the Chase
This information, although somewhat dated, comes courtesy of Staff Sergeant Ross MacInnes of the Calgary, Alberta Police Services in Canada.
Most suspects, when given the option of turning left or right during a spontaneous foot flight, will veer right. While Joe Civilian might think this has something to do with most people being right-handed, it really has to do with how the creative side of the brain works. Unless the perp has a specific location in mind, he ll probably make a series of right turns when presented with both options.
MacInnes s study also shows that if Mr. Badguy is forced to make several left turns because of natural barriers (fences, hedges, alleys, etc.) or police containment, he ll probably stop and hide after about one or two turns. If you ve lost your suspect on a stretch of road for a minute or two, look for him along the right side. Likewise, if he s holding, he ll more often than not toss his stash or piece along the right side of a street or alleyway.
If you find yourself chasing two suspects alone, you probably can plan for the duo to also coop it within the first few minutes. MacInnes found that two or more skells hide quicker than just one on the run.
Also, if you do find perp #1, after you ve got him cuffed, stay low and look around for his accomplice. MacInnes says that not only will the second perp usually hide fairly close to where perp #1 burrowed in; he ll usually circle to the right and try to scope out what s happening between you and perp #1.
Keep in mind, MacInnes s research deals with suspects spontaneous flight. Before you take off after a driver who s fled on foot, you may be better off going for the tried-and-true method of collecting evidence at the scene of the stop. Run data checks on the vehicle s plates, look for documents left by the occupants or driver that might give you a fix on where they re heading.
To the best of my knowledge, no one has formed a continuum for foot pursuits like those that exist for vehicle chases. Hopefully the information presented in this month s column will assist in your decision-making process when weighing whether to chase the next fleet-footed felon testing your stamina.
The rush to get the bad guy can be very compelling. I know from experience. If you keep proper tactics in mind, like working as a team with a partner, maintaining communications, using barriers, slicing the pie when going around corners and relying on other resources such as police service dogs and air units, foot pursuits can be much safer.
Special thanks to Ross MacInnes and Calibre Press Inc.’s Tactics for Criminal Patrol.