This is the last installment of a three-part series on foot pursuits taken from Calibre Press’s bestselling textbook, Tactics for Criminal Patrol.
Don’t hypnotically follow the suspect’s exact path of flight. This behavioral form of tunnel vision makes you dangerously predictable. Plus, you may not want to go where he goes.
Anticipate the suspect’s flight pattern. To some extent, you can predict where he’ll run, and this can be an important survival and tracking consideration if you lose sight of him. One Canadian study concludes that:
— Suspects fleeing from a scene may first turn left but after that will tend to turn right whenever they have to turn, avoiding left turns if at all possible. Apparently this relates to the part of the human brain that becomes dominate under stress.
— If they are forced to turn left by natural barriers or police containment, they become frustrated or confused. They generally will make no more than two left turns before they panic and hide.
— Running down a street or alley, the vast majority will run along the right side.
— Evidence will usually be tossed away to the right.
— If they have a choice of where to hide, they favor the right side.
— If two suspects are running and one hides, the second will usually hide within 200 feet of the first; both will hide sooner than a subject fleeing alone.
— If one of two fleeing suspects is captured, the other will tend to circle to the right within a 200-foot radius and come back to the scene to scope things out, so long as the prisoner is kept in the vicinity. The sergeant who documented these patterns sometimes uses this last tendency as a means of bagging the companion who remains at large. At night, he places the handcuffed first suspect on the hood of his patrol car, plays a spotlight on him, and uses him as a visible magnet to draw the second offender into the area, where he can then be taken by surprise.
Use extreme caution in your final approach. If you’re running full speed and closing in on the suspect, he can suddenly stop and attack before you can slow down. Your forward momentum may propel you right into him and his weapon. Trying to tackle him may end up in a wrestling match—and result in your disarming.
If you use the pace-and-charge technique (mentioned in Part 2 of this series), slow down before you actually reach the suspect and approach in a balanced and controlled manner, ready to apply any necessary defense and/or arrest control techniques. You’re safest to draw your firearm and just stabilize the scene at a comfortable distance, avoiding a final approach until: backup is present…the suspect is physically unable to resist…or you are convinced he is fully submissive. Remember, with many foot pursuits, when a chase ends a fight begins.
Be psychologically prepared for a deadly force encounter. Unpredictability is often a core ingredient of foot pursuits. Changes in the status can take place at head-spinning speed. Consider: A sheriff’s deputy discovered an ounce of crack hidden in the spare-tire compartment of a car he’d stopped for as traffic violation in Alabama. The driver seemed compliant, but the passenger rabbited.
In a matter of minutes, the fleeing suspect: tried unsuccessfully to get into several unoccupied cars he approached in traffic…dived through the window of a Monte Carlo…jumped out when police made contact with that car…ran into a busy grocery store…grabbed a large knife off a butcher’s table…rang through swinging doors into the back of the store and into a refrigerated storage area…confronted the original deputy who’d come after him…threatened to kill himself while the deputy tried to persuade him to drop the knife and surrender peacefully…sprayed stainless-steel cleaner into his mouth…suddenly lunged toward the deputy in a threatening manner…was shot and mortally wounded.
Through all this, the deputy not only pursued the fleeing suspect successfully but maintained the necessary mental acuity and physical firearms control to protect himself and others in a fast-changing scenario.
Even when a foot-pursuit suspect is seized, don’t assume your danger is over. A rookie trooper in Connecticut pursued a Chevy Camaro that he was trying to stop one afternoon for passing illegally. The driver screeched to a halt near a wooded area and ran from the car, leaving behind a briefcase with thousands of dollars in cash, a quantity of cocaine, and a handgun. The rookie ran after him, caught him and had one handcuff applied when the suspect whipped out a hidden .25-cal. pistol and shot the trooper in the forehead.
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