Foot pursuits: 13 tips to improve your running skills and your safety
If you can’t catch the suspect with a quick dash that lasts no more than about 20 seconds, ease off and pace yourself
This article is reprinted with permission from Calibre Press
In a previous article on foot pursuits, we shared six officer survival considerations to take into account before chasing a fleeing suspect. In this article, we share tips for improving your running technique to help increase your odds of catching the suspect and more officer safety tips to remember if you do decide to pursue. (Share your top foot pursuit tips in the box below.)
- 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 at 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 pursuing 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. Pursue 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 and 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 foot pursuits.
- 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?
Police1 readers respond
- Set that perimeter further out than first estimated. I can't tell you how many times a suspect got further away than assumed.
- When running behind a suspect, I think it might be a little better to run to their left rear a bit as most folks are right-handed and should they draw a knife or gun with the right hand they would have to turn/twist and shoot across their body to aim at you to their left rear. I thought that was still taught in the academy.
I have been accused of tripping over the paint line in the road several times, mostly because I am trying to reach out and grab the suspect so much so that I lose my balance and fall. My first tip is, don't reach out until you know you can grab the guy. The second tip is, don't go chasing someone in the dark over unknown ground for a shoplifting charge, evaluate the risk of chasing vs. the seriousness of the crime.
Remember to train so that you can still use your radio and be ready for a fight at the end of the pursuit. If you are too winded to do either one, you are on your own.
Don't grab the suspect and fall to the ground with him. When you are close enough push him and he will fall to the ground. Then you can manage him.
On 3-11PM and/or 11PM/7AM, single-person unit or two-person unit, don't chase a suspect into total darkness. Call in for K-9, as well as air support (if available), and set up a perimeter. Also, remember the suspect in total darkness can see you against the background of the patrol vehicle lighting, think cover.
Watch for tripwires and similar traps; we had subjects intentionally run through certain areas in which they had placed devices intended to injure pursuing officers.
- Let them get out of sight. Most will go to ground and hide if they get the chance. The hide will usually be within 50 feet of where you last saw them. Often they literally put themselves in a corner with no way out. Approach potential hides carefully.
- Radio goes faster than you do! Transmit suspect clothing-direction.
- Probably one of the most dangerous things an officer can do. If you can't catch them in the first 50 yards and/or you lose sight of them, set up a perimeter. Not always practical but the further you get from your unit, the harder it is for your partners to find you.
- If you can’t catch him off the blocks, PACE yourself. In my experience, the suspect will absolutely gas out and give themselves up.
- Listen for sounds and activities of where they might be or the direction they are heading. Barking dogs, skidding tires/vehicle crashes and people yelling are great ways to track general movements and give updates to supporting units. And don’t forget motion lights coming on too.