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Tactical cornering during foot pursuits

If an officer is like the dog chasing the car with no plan on what to do once he catches it, then the officer is not mentally prepared for this pursuit

The murder of Officer Ryan Bonaminio of the Riverside (Calif.) Police Department during a foot pursuit serves to remind us of the severe dangers inherent in that activity. In this particular case, the officer was on foot chasing a suspect while holding his service weapon in his hand. The officer slipped, fell, and dropped his pistol. The suspect observed this, approached the officer and struck him in the head and face with a metal bar, and then retrieved the officer’s gun. The offender then murdered the officer with his own weapon. The suspect was caught several days later and awaits his fate.

Those of you familiar with the military’s tactical planning acronym METT-TC will recognize this particular moment in time during this particular foot pursuit as an environmental “terrain feature” consideration. For those of you not familiar with this acronym, it stands for: Mission, Enemy, Troops, Terrain, Time, and Civilians. In this article I will restrict discussion to two particular features of the acronym: Terrain and Time, and how they apply to cornering during a foot pursuit.

An officer maintains the advantage over a suspect during a foot pursuit while he has the suspect in sight. I should qualify and add that the officer has the advantage as long as he is: maintaining an appropriate and controlling distance, using cover effectively, broadcasting his actions clearly and precisely, is physically fit, and has a plan for once he catches the suspect. If however, the officer is like the dog chasing the car with no plan on what to do once he catches it, then the officer is not mentally prepared for this pursuit.

The moment an officer loses sight of the suspect, the danger to the officer dramatically increases. That moment is usually when the offender turns a corner. It takes little imagination to conceive the possible actions the suspect can take once he is out of sight. He can continue to flee, he can attempt to hide, or he can wait in ambush and fight it out with the unsuspecting officer who blindly turns the corner in pursuit.

Two Generally-accepted Methods of Cornering
An officer who intends to continue his pursuit after losing sight of the suspect (as opposed to halting and establishing a perimeter) must do one thing — get a view around the apex of that corner. There are two generally-accepted methods of cornering (not considering air support, mirrors, cameras, dogs, or robots): “slicing the pie” or a dynamic corner clear — “popping” or “snapping” depending upon your vernacular.

Slicing the pie is a slow and deliberate method of corner clearing. In this method, the officer maintains a distance from the corner and leans into the threat area attempting to clear one “slice of the pie” at a time. Unfortunately, the officer who is chasing a suspect is adrenalized and is goal-directed towards the capture. Realistically, it is the rare officer who will be willing to slow to the actual speed needed for a safe and deliberate corner clear. Even a pristine pie-slice, at best affords the officer a “tie.” That is, it is unlikely that the officer will see the suspect before the suspect sees the officer, especially if it is dark or an area with multiple threat points. Additionally, the officer may need to see both the suspect’s hands before he can detail the threat while the offender need only know that the officer is present before he begins to fire on the officer. If there is cover available to the officer such as trees or parked cars, then the officer should conduct his searching and clearing operation from behind said cover.

The second method for taking a corner is the dynamic clear. In this case, the officer moves directly to the corner and in one dynamic movement pops around the corner with one eye and the muzzle of his weapon. When negotiating a corner in this manner, the officer should not “crowd” the wall, but remain approximately an arm’s length away. The advantages of this method are that he “owns” the cover afforded by the corner, he gets a rapid view of the entire threat area, and he may gain the element of surprise because of his quick movement. Additionally, this movement is in accordance with the human factors involved- that is, the mind-set of the predator hunting the prey: adrenalized, fast, and aggressive.

The drawback to the dynamic corner clear is the possibility that the suspect may be positioned immediately around the corner, and in this case the officer may potentially face the barrel of a weapon. This is an analysis that the officer needs to make as he is approaching the corner. Considerations include the speed at which the suspect took the corner, how much lead the suspect had when he disappeared from sight and what the officer heard after the suspect went around the corner. If the suspect suddenly slowed before turning the corner, he may be lying in wait just beyond. If however, the suspect’s momentum carried him past the apex and the officer can hear the suspect continue to run, it is unlikely that he is immediately around the corner. Either way, the officer can mitigate the problem of coming face-to-face with the suspect by first conducting a “quick-peek,” and if there is no “danger-close” threat, he can continue with the dynamic corner clear—preferably at a different height.

When an officer spots a subject as he is negotiating a corner, he needs to determine three things about that individual.

First — who is it? Is it the suspect he is chasing?
Second — what does the suspect have in his hands?
Third — the officer must reasonably determine what the suspect intends to do (the first two Os of Boyd’s OODA loop).

This information takes time to mentally process. The suspect, on the other hand, need only see a part of the officer before he begins firing. Our rules of engagement do not apply to him. The motto of the F-22 Raptor is illustrative: First Look, First Shot, First Kill.

Whichever corner clearing tactic you use, do not allow the suspect to gain that advantage over you.

Steve “Pappy” Papenfuhs is the CEO of Battalion Defense which distributes premier armor, armor carriers, ballistic helmets and shields, and other tactical kit. Pappy retired as a sergeant after serving 29 years with the San Jose, California Police Department. During his career he worked Patrol, Field Training (FTO), Street Crimes, SWAT, Auto Theft, Sexual Assaults, Narcotics, Family Violence, and supervised the department’s in-service Training Division. He holds a Force Analysis certification from the Force Science Research Center, and is a certified instructor with the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) in several disciplines including: Firearms, Defensive Tactics, Baton, Force Options, and Emergency Vehicle Operations (EVOC). In addition to running Battalion Defense and teaching both academy recruits and in-service officers, Pappy provides expert witness consultation in police practices, use of force, and training issues.

Contact Steve Papenfuhs.