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7 stages of a successful foot pursuit

To win these encounters, it is good to look at these real world-obstacle courses as a seven-stage event

Your next foot pursuit may be just around the corner. To win these encounters, it is good to look at these real world-obstacle courses as a seven-stage event, broken down as follows.

1. Preparation

This is one law enforcement endeavor you need to prepare for throughout your career. The extreme physical exertion of pursuing someone you truly want to apprehend can kill you. Physically training in advance of that sudden dash not only helps secure success, it can ensure your survival.

To train for this exertion, you should run, lift and stretch three to five times a week to generally stay in shape. To prepare specifically for foot pursuits, consider adding a regimen of running steps, hills and wind sprints (alternating between a jog and a full-on run).

Additionally, it behooves you to practice quickly dismounting from and securing your squad for the pursuit. Exiting your squad quickly and securing it is a skill set in itself.

It is important to continuously train the physical arrest skills needed to control resistive suspects effectively in these dynamic circumstances. Cardiovascular and muscular endurance, coupled with these skills, will be absolutely necessary at the moment that the determined suspect decides he has run far enough and turns to fight.

2. Decision interval

During your initial observation, do a visual scan to assess whether the suspect appears armed and to observe his description, clothing and especially his shoes for later identification. (Suspects often alter clothing after a pursuit, but rarely change shoes.)

In the spontaneous contact of the Terry stop or traffic stops, there is usually an interval between the moment the suspect becomes aware of your interest and that subject’s decision to flee. Indicators that a flight may be imminent can be:

  • The unspoken communication made during eye contact. This is difficult to explain, but the street officer knows exactly what I am talking about.
  • The suspect’s visual inspection of the officer(s) present as he weighs his odds of success.
  • A furtive visual scan for an escape route and/or witnesses.
  • Occasionally, suspects will stretch or even yawn as if they just got out of bed.
  • Muscular tension, sweating, increased heart rate and breathing.
  • A crouch or lean.
  • Pulling away and stepping backward as you step toward the suspect.
  • Finally, the push-off from a wall, car or you as the suspect spins and runs.

Making a decisive arrest decision (with probable cause) can short circuit the suspect’s decision-making process. It also can trigger immediate fight or flight.

3. Initial breakaway

If the flight is anticipated, a great time to apprehend is during the initial breakaway. Suspects will be off balance and not up to full stride. The initial awkwardness will make them susceptible to be taken down, as long as the contact officer is not literally caught flat-footed.

4. In-sight pursuit

If the suspect is not apprehended in the first few steps, you have a decision to make. Do you cordon or pursue? This will depend on the circumstances of the arrest, your physical condition and what is happening at the scene.

If you choose to pursue, you should constantly assess the suspect’s hands and gait. Watch him to determine if he is reaching to hold something in place or remove something to toss. Watch for a weapon, and take every corner as if he has laid an ambush for you there.

Throughout this pursuit – from beginning to end – radio your circumstance, location and direction of travel. Consciously control your breath during these transmissions, or you will be impossible to understand.

5. Out-of-sight pursuit

Once you lose sight of the suspect, change tactics. It is time to cordon and cautiously search.

Indicators of direction of travel are barking dogs, security lights turning on, gates standing open and foot prints across snow or even dew-covered grass. (These prints can be seen by holding your lighted flashlight parallel to the ground).

Other indicators of direction of travel are scuff marks on walls, bystanders pointing or looking in a certain direction, broken spiderwebs on the exterior of a hiding place and noise.

Many suspects will hide the second they feel they have lost the pursuing officer. Fleeing is hard work. In many cases, I have found the hiding suspect within a stone’s throw of the last point of observation.

Consider hiding out of sight after the pursuit has gone cold, in the area of the last sighting. The suspect will often come out of hiding when they believe the coast is clear.

6. Apprehension

The dynamics of the apprehension can range from the suspect throwing his hands up in surrender to the suspect turning suddenly assaultive. Cautiously accept surrender or defensibly overcome resistance. Mirandize the suspect when needed.

After the suspect is handcuffed and searched try this approach:

“Are you injured? You’re not? That’s good, I’m glad. It was your job to get away and my job to catch you. Now that’s over, there’s no reason why we can’t get along from here on.”

As one old field training officer put it, help them up, brush them off and return to them their dignity. By establishing an immediate rapport, you often can get some powerful admissions while they are adrenalized.

7. Post pursuit

Follow your standard post-arrest protocol procedure, plus make sure you check yourself for injuries and lost equipment. Check the businesses in the area of the pursuit’s inception to determine if you interrupted a crime in progress. Also, as soon as possible, retrace your steps to determine if the suspect tossed anything during the pursuit.


After a foot pursuit with excellent tactics, you will experience that crowning moment that must feel a little bit like standing on an Olympic podium. Instead of receiving a medal, however, the officer gets to key that mic and proudly yet breathlessly proclaim, “Suspect is in custody.”

This article, originally published on February 2, 2016, has been updated.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.