Foot Pursuits: A Special Calibre Press Series


In the bestselling Calibre Press textbook, Tactics for Criminal Patrol, author and Calibre co-founder Chuck Remsberg shares some crucial, potentially lifesaving insights into considerations officers must heed prior to engaging in a foot pursuit. In the context of the book, these pursuits are generally launched after a traffic stop that likely involves illegal contraband, but the tips shared are directly relevant to all foot pursuit scenarios.

Part 1: Before racing after a suspect who takes off on foot, here are 6 officer survival considerations to take into account:

— Who is the suspect?

Is he someone you’ve already patted down, or is the weaponry he might be packing unknown?

Does he have a known violent background that suggests he could attack, given the opportunity?

Is he the driver of the vehicle, probably the person you’re most interested in on a contraband stop, or a passenger who does not have authority over the vehicle?

Do you know who he is, where he lives, and where you can likely find him again if he gets away now?

— Who are you?

Are you wearing your vest?

Are you overweight, out of shape, near retirement and susceptible to a heart attack from a chase and possible scuffle afterwards? If you catch the suspect, can you handle him physically, when you’re likely to be out of breath and fatigued?

Can you use your firearm after sustained exertion? If you don’t know, try this on the range: Sprint for just 30 seconds, then shoot; notice the effect on your accuracy.

— What help is available?

If you don’t have backup, can you radio for other officers in the vicinity to intercept the pursuit or block off the area so the suspect is contained?

Do you have at least verbal communication with other officers involved in the chase? Taking on a sustained foot pursuit all by yourself is extremely dangerous.

This is not an athletic contest but an effort to seize an actively resisting subject who apparently is involved in something serious enough to convince him to refuse to submit to your authority and your commands to stop. This resistance frequently escalates to a violent physical confrontation at the end of the pursuit, when you may need the help of other officers.

Also consider what help might be available to the suspect, especially if he leads you into his home turf.

— When is the pursuit taking place?

Is it at night when your visibility is limited, or near the end of your shift when you’re already dead tired?

Is it in cold weather when ice may create a running hazard, or in summer when blazing heat may cause sudden exertion problems?

— Where is it taking place?

Some officers feel the most important element of a successful pursuit is knowing the territory. Do you know the area as well as the suspect is likely to, or are you running “blind,” essentially ignorant about possible hazards, where he might end up, shortcuts, opportunities to circle back to your patrol car, etc.?

Does the path of flight allow you to maintain visible contact with the suspect, if not continually at least sufficiently to prevent ambush (If you lose him, you’re really no longer in a pursuit; you’re into a search.)

Is the location inherently dangerous—like thick woods or a housing project—with numerous hiding places and numerous vantage points for surprise attack? Is traffic a threat to you?

— Are the risks worth it?

If the bottom line is “No,” don’t pursue. This should definitely be your conclusion if you know in advance that the fleeing suspect is armed with a gun. If that becomes known during the pursuit, call it off, unless you can proceed with adequate cover.

Part 2: In this second installment, we’re sharing tips for improving your running technique so you increase your odds of catching the suspect and more officer safety tips to remember if you do decide to chase:

— Off-duty, develop your pursuit style, learning to run with your body relaxed and efficient.

— Run with the ground surface, not against it. That is, try to minimize your vertical bobbing up and down to reduce muscular/skeletal shock and energy drain.

— If you have a choice on your department, wear duty shoes that will facilitate speed, traction and endurance. Avoid footgear like cowboy boots. Can you comfortably and safely run 100 yards in your current footwear?

— When chasing an offender, run at a pace that will leave you a reserve of energy should you need to confront him.

— If a suspect stops running, maintain a control distance that will allow you to disengage from a physical encounter or escalate to a higher level of force if he aggressively resists you.

— Don’t automatically start running. Sometimes you can go just about any place a suspect can go in your patrol vehicle. Chase him with it as far as you can to conserve your energy. When you reach a place you can’t go, evaluate whether bailing out and running after him makes sense. Remember, you will have to secure your squad if you go so no one (including the fleeing suspect) can access your equipment or steal your vehicle.

— Don’t abandon unsecured suspects or run past an uncleared suspect vehicle from which an armed occupant could ambush you. Remember, the person you’re chasing may not be your greatest threat. An Oregon officer stopped a car with four occupants after they left a drug-sale location. The driver ran, the officer chased him. They scuffled briefly, but the officer subdued and cuffed him. This suspect was unarmed. But among the three occupants left behind (two of whom were females) were a revolver and a Marine Corps Ka-Bar combat knife. The male passenger ran after the officer, intending to help the driver. He showed up—with the Ka-Bar knife in hand—just as the officer completed cuffing. The officer drew down on him and controlled him. But if he’d arrived seconds sooner while the officer was still struggling with the driver, the story could have had a different ending.

— Sprint briefly, then follow, don’t chase. If you can’t catch the suspect with a quick dash that lasts no more than about 20 seconds, ease off and pace yourself. Try to keep him in sight and track where he’s going, but don’t exhaust yourself so that you’re physically vulnerable if you do catch him. Adjust your speed to your advantage. One option is the “pace and charge” technique. While the suspect is running as fast as he can, you run at more of a jogging pace, about 60 to 80% of your maximum effort. Try to stay close enough to keep him in sight but with enough separation (about 15 yards or so) to create a protective buffer. As he begins to tire and slow down, you accelerate and overtake him. When he sees you gaining on him, this will often produce a surrender.

— As you run, scan. Look up and back from where you are to where the suspect is (and beyond), as well as scanning from side to side, just as you do in a vehicle pursuit. You’re breaking your tunnel vision on him to watch for “road” hazards, possible ambush spots or other threats that may blindside you otherwise. In a vehicle pursuit, it’s important not to drive so fast that you “outrun your headlights” and are on a hazard before you can do anything to avoid it. The same holds true in controlling yourself in a foot pursuit.

— Keep your sidearm controlled. Don’t run with it in your hand; the risk of unintentional discharge or disarming is too high. Don’t try to shoot while you’re running; the risk of wild shots and unintentional hits is too high. Especially avoid firing warning shots; they are usually worthless and dangerous and create a severe legal liability for you. Be sure when your gun is in your holster that it is secure. Unbelievable as it seems, guns have bounced out of holsters during foot pursuits and officers haven’t realized it until they’ve tried to draw—and grabbed empty air. In practice sessions, try running with all of your normal duty gear and see what happens to your equipment. Do you lose anything? This may affect your future decisions about chasing.

— Don’t split your forces. If a partner is with you and there are multiple runners, both of you stay together even if the suspects split in different directions. Pick your best target and stick with him. It’s worth others getting away if you can safely capture one.

— Use caution rounding corners and try to move from cover to cover as you run. Take time not to rush past or around corners and solid objects where the suspect may be hiding or run out in the open where he can spin and pop you. Scan ahead so you anticipate corners. Approaching them, either quick-peek around them…“slice the pie”  as you would on a building search to gradually expose what’s on the other side…or at the very least swing wide to “round the corner off” so you create distance from an area of unknown hazard. This will no doubt slow you down some, but a less cautious approach can slow you down all the way…permanently.

— Watch for movement toward common weapon areas. A suspect’s hands are just as dangerous when he’s in flight as any other time. As you run, keep asking yourself: Where is the nearest cover right now? How am I going to respond if he moves toward a weapon area right now?

Part 3: Anticipating a suspect’s flight pattern, navigating your final approach, being psychologically prepared for a deadly force encounter and more, the last installment of a three-part series on foot pursuits taken from Calibre Press’s bestselling textbook, Tactics for Criminal Patrol.

Don’t hypnotically follow the suspect’s exact path of flight. This behavioral form of tunnel vision makes you dangerously predictable. Plus, you may not want to go where he goes.

Anticipate the suspect’s flight pattern. To some extent, you can predict where he’ll run, and this can be an important survival and tracking consideration if you lose sight of him. One Canadian study concludes that:

— Suspects fleeing from a scene may first turn left but after that will tend to turn right whenever they have to turn, avoiding left turns if at all possible. Apparently this relates to the part of the human brain that becomes dominate under stress.

— If they are forced to turn left by natural barriers or police containment, they become frustrated or confused. They generally will make no more than two left turns before they panic and hide.

— Running down a street or alley, the vast majority will run along the right side.

— Evidence will usually be tossed away to the right.

— If they have a choice of where to hide, they favor the right side.

— If two suspects are running and one hides, the second will usually hide within 200 feet of the first; both will hide sooner than a subject fleeing alone.

— If one of two fleeing suspects is captured, the other will tend to circle to the right within a 200-foot radius and come back to the scene to scope things out, so long as the prisoner is kept in the vicinity. The sergeant who documented these patterns sometimes uses this last tendency as a means of bagging the companion who remains at large. At night, he places the handcuffed first suspect on the hood of his patrol car, plays a spotlight on him, and uses him as a visible magnet to draw the second offender into the area, where he can then be taken by surprise.

Use extreme caution in your final approach. If you’re running full speed and closing in on the suspect, he can suddenly stop and attack before you can slow down. Your forward momentum may propel you right into him and his weapon. Trying to tackle him may end up in a wrestling match—and result in your disarming.

If you use the pace-and-charge technique (mentioned in Part 2 of this series), slow down before you actually reach the suspect and approach in a balanced and controlled manner, ready to apply any necessary defense and/or arrest control techniques. You’re safest to draw your firearm and just stabilize the scene at a comfortable distance, avoiding a final approach until: backup is present…the suspect is physically unable to resist…or you are convinced he is fully submissive. Remember, with many foot pursuits, when a chase ends a fight begins.

Be psychologically prepared for a deadly force encounter. Unpredictability is often a core ingredient of foot pursuits. Changes in the status can take place at head-spinning speed. Consider: A sheriff’s deputy discovered an ounce of crack hidden in the spare-tire compartment of a car he’d stopped for as traffic violation in Alabama. The driver seemed compliant, but the passenger rabbited.

In a matter of minutes, the fleeing suspect: tried unsuccessfully to get into several unoccupied cars he approached in traffic…dived through the window of a Monte Carlo…jumped out when police made contact with that car…ran into a busy grocery store…grabbed a large knife off a butcher’s table…rang through swinging doors into the back of the store and into a refrigerated storage area…confronted the original deputy who’d come after him…threatened to kill himself while the deputy tried to persuade him to drop the knife and surrender peacefully…sprayed stainless-steel cleaner into his mouth…suddenly lunged toward the deputy in a threatening manner…was shot and mortally wounded.

Through all this, the deputy not only pursued the fleeing suspect successfully but maintained the necessary mental acuity and physical firearms control to protect himself and others in a fast-changing scenario.

Even when a foot-pursuit suspect is seized, don’t assume your danger is over. A rookie trooper in Connecticut pursued a Chevy Camaro that he was trying to stop one afternoon for passing illegally. The driver screeched to a halt near a wooded area and ran from the car, leaving behind a briefcase with thousands of dollars in cash, a quantity of cocaine, and a handgun. The rookie ran after him, caught him and had one handcuff applied when the suspect whipped out a hidden .25-cal. pistol and shot the trooper in the forehead.

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