6 officer survival considerations before initiating a foot pursuit

Ask yourself these questions to assess the risk level of the pursuit


This article is reprinted with permission from Calibre Press

In the bestselling Calibre Press textbook, "Tactics for Criminal Patrol," author and Calibre co-founder Chuck Remsberg shares some crucial, potentially life-saving 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.

This is not an athletic contest but an effort to seize an actively resisting subject.
This is not an athletic contest but an effort to seize an actively resisting subject. (Getty Images)

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

1. 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?

2. 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 afterward? 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.

3. 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.

4. 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?

5. 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 a surprise attack? Is traffic a threat to you?

6. 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.

NEXT: 7 stages of a successful foot pursuit

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