Foot pursuits are inherently dangerous. Unfortunately, we often sacrifice tactics to catch the suspect that is fleeing. When we initiate a foot pursuit, we are placing ourselves in positions that make marksmanship more difficult. Movement (suspect or officer), distance from the suspect, potential barriers, and target availability all become issues we may need to overcome. However, these issues can be mitigated if we have the correct mindset during a foot pursuit.
Generally speaking, when we are dealing with a suspect and time is on our side, we should take the following tactical considerations: time, distance, cover, and numbers. When our incident involves a foot pursuit, none of those considerations may be available to us. But what you can do is prioritize what is most important which could be preparing ourselves for a gunfight. Failure to prioritize what is most important could lead to serious injury or even death if the suspect is armed.
It is not uncommon for officers to be seriously hurt or killed by a suspect during a foot pursuit. On February 7th, Milwaukee officers engaged in foot pursuit with a suspect after responding to a robbery. During that foot pursuit one of the officers was shot and killed while another officer struggled with the suspect during a physical confrontation. Although we do not have all the facts and circumstances available to us, hearing the words “physical confrontation” while confronting someone you know is armed doesn’t necessarily make tactical sense.
Depending on the department policy, given the facts and circumstances that are understood at the time of the pursuit, it may be advantageous for the officer to run with their gun out and ready engage if necessary. There is a tactical and responsible way to run with your handgun, while still maintain positive control of your firearm. Consider this an option if the suspect is armed, reported to be armed, furtive movements, or it is reasonable to believe that the suspect would be armed given the offense that has occurred.
When officers respond to these incidents where they know the suspect is armed, or the potential for them to be armed is high, we need to be placing these suspects in a compromising position before we make physical contact. A compromising position places the suspect at a tactical disadvantage by limiting his mobility and diminishing his situational awareness. A common request that accomplishes this is ordering the suspect to “get on the ground, face down.” Traditionally if the suspect does assume this position, you will clearly see their hands. If not, that request should follow.
Under the conditions listed above during a foot pursuit, there may be a time where it makes sense to holster your handgun to make physical contact. An example would be when you reasonably believe the suspect is unarmed based on what you see, or the suspect has other wise placed himself at an extreme tactical disadvantage. An example would be if the suspect is not following commands as requested but has otherwise demonstrated that he is not longer physically able to continue fleeing.
Even in these situations I would seriously consider using the contact & cover method. This occurs when one officer is physically restraining a “compliant” suspect while the other is holding lethal coverage. Doing so mitigates the risk of the officer struggling with a suspect on his own. I realize some officer working in less populated parts of the country may not have this option. In that case be certain the suspect has surrendered or is at an extreme tactical disadvantage.
As an instructor if I put you in a simunition scenario and I told you that the person you would be running after is armed with a sims pistol, do you think you would run with your gun out? Do you think you would resort to physically confronting the suspect unless those other conditions were met? Or would you be focused on preparing yourself for what you should be thinking is inevitable?
When executing any tactical skill set you need to look at the goal and then prioritize the safest way possible to achieve that goal. During a foot pursuit, if we are preparing ourselves for the worst-case scenario (being shot at) then we should be preparing ourselves for that moment continuously in the best way that we can. The dynamic aspect to foot pursuits offers unique challenges but there are ways to mitigate the risk of serious injury or death.
Brad Frederick is an Infantry Marine Combat Veteran and active law enforcement officer of seven years in large metropolitan city. Brad served as a patrol officer before transitioning to a tactical team. Brad is also the CEO and lead instructor of “Kinetic Concepts LLC” which is a tactical and firearms training group located in Houston, Texas.