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Foot pursuits: Strategies and tactics for winning

In foot pursuits, are you a Shepherd, Border Collie, Bloodhound, Pointer, or a hybrid?

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Police work outside a Miami courthouse.

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“209. I’m in foot pursuit... puff-puff! The suspect is running... puff-puff! He’s eastbound on Main Street from Oak Street.”

Been there and done that, right? Police officers get plenty of opportunities to engage in foot pursuits. Suspects will run to avoid apprehensions for everything from curfew to murder as in the recent case, where Officer Glen Estrada of the New York Police Department pursued and captured the suspect that had just killed his partner, Officer Peter Figoski, a 22-year veteran of the NYPD.

In many cases, however, the pursuing officer has no idea why the suspect is running.


Prior to fleeing, suspects will often telegraph their intentions, by glancing about for an escape corridor, pacing, or by going into “the lean.” The runner will be slightly off balance as they initiate what the Supreme Court has called “head-long flight.” If you anticipate the flight you may be able to take their balance away in the first few steps, ending the pursuit by physically directing the suspect to the ground.

When a foot pursuit develops, officers will employ one or more of these foot pursuit styles, either instinctively or with thought and consideration. They are the “German Shepherd,” the “Border Collie,” the “Bloodhound,” the “Pointer,” or the “hybrid.”

The German Shepherd pursuit

The German Shepherd is a hard charger, who keeps the subject of his pursuit in sight and tries to achieve a speed to capture and hold the suspect. This style can be deliberate, but is most often instinctive. “It runs therefore I must chase it.”

The Border Collie pursuit

It may not always be possible — or even wise — to pursue directly anyone and everyone who runs. Sometimes it is advisable to call for backup and pursue like the “Border Collie.”

The “Border Collie,” is a herding breed. When it is not possible or practical to overcome and apprehend the suspect, the pursuing officer may be smart to utilize other responding officers, using radio transmissions to maneuver back-up officers into positions, where escape appears hopeless to the suspect.

LAPD helicopter pilots are some of the most famous Border Collies in the world.

If a suspect runs into a house, or apartment, officers should think twice before following directly after them. Remember suspects don’t run to where your friends and weapons are they run to where their friends and weapons are. Consider getting back-up and locking down the perimeter around the residence or apartment.

The Bloodhound pursuit

When a suspect disappears during a pursuit, stop, look, and listen. Most suspects will have a tendency to go to the ground as soon as possible after they feel they have lost the initial pursuer. If you lose the suspect, many times they can be located hiding within a stone’s throw of the spot, where they were last seen.

Set up a perimeter and then begin your search, cautiously (a shield would be practical if available). Like a Bloodhound, you may be able to follow the trail left by a suspect. Here are some signs:

  1. Foot prints left in the snow, mud, sand, or dew on the grass. Hold your flashlight parallel to the ground and you will see the impressions in the wet grass at night. You can also use thermal technology or K-9s (if available).
  2. Gates for fenced-in yards left standing open.
  3. Dogs barking (they are literally saying “He’s over here! He’s over here!”)
  4. Motion lights going on.
  5. Car alarms.
  6. Flattened tall grass and crushed bushes, or flowers.
  7. The noise of the flight or hide in progress.
  8. Watch for the circling vehicle of a friend summoned by the suspect via cell phone.
  9. The lingering smell of their aftershave, or a nervously-released flatus emanating from their hide.
  10. Be cautious of the ambush!

Citizens may often direct you if asked, but even when citizens are not inclined to help they may have their head turned in the direction the suspect just fled or hid.

A team of officers can also wait discreetly in the area, after giving the appearance the search has been called off. The apprehension can be made, when the suspect comes out of hiding.

The pointer pursuit

The officer who is the Pointer will stand by at the spot of the initial flight, call for assistance, and coordinate a team response for the search. This may be the smart approach for suspects who fit into the armed-and-dangerous category, or those who have fled in a car full of compatriots. This style also prevents escape route contamination when a K-9 is to be called to the scene on the search.

It may also be the tactic used by officers who physically are no longer able to pursue, or for the ROD who proudly proclaims, “I don’t do foot pursuits.”

The Hybrid

The hybrid officer is part German Shepherd, part Border Collie part Bloodhound, part Pointer and, can employ and transition to the proper tactics to each individual pursuit to achieve the best results.

K-9 handlers participating in the recent 32nd Annual LVMPD K-9 Trials in Las Vegas took some time out backstage to share their pups’ favorite toys

Pay attention

It is imperative that pursuing officers pursue smart, by calling in locations and directions regularly. Watch the suspect’s hands and clothing constantly for weapons or contraband that might be accessed or discarded, during the pursuit. When something is discarded that is not dangerous to be left unattended, note the location for collection later. One officer noticed a fleeing suspect throw a fist full of soda can flip tops. After the observation, the officer continued the pursuit. After collaring the suspect he returned and discovered the flip tops were actually diamond rings taken from an unreported Jewelry store burglary the wanted criminal had just committed.

As any foot pursuit progresses pay attention to the height, weight, clothing, and description of the suspect, for future identification. Pay particular attention to the shoes, as suspects rarely change them.

Be wary of an ambush when the suspect rounds a corner. Take corners wide, “cutting the pie.”

When the suspect is caught, be prepared and able to use the proper level of force to control. Do not get caught up in the moment and use force beyond what is reasonable. If you do, you may have won the battle, but lost the war. With that being said, be prepared to win!

Preparation It behooves every working street officer to physically train for the eventuality of a foot pursuit and all that it might entail?

Are you physically and tactically prepared to make this transmission?

“209... puff, puff... The suspect is in custody!”

Aaaahhhh! The sound of sweet satisfaction.

This article, originally published January 3, 2012, 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.