Foot Pursuits: Over The River And Through The Wood

Foot Pursuits: follow the knob

“I’ve got a vehicle stopped at 5th and Mockingbird Lane. Driver just tossed something from the window. Request back up…He’s running! I’ve got a runner!” Suddenly, the radio goes silent, but everyone knows exactly what’s going on because they’ve all been there and done that.

The patrol officer in the above scenario was in the midst of a traffic stop when the driver decided to abandon his car and head for the hills, or wherever it is they think they can go to avoid an arrest. So, Officer I. M. Sprinter (Well, that’s what’s on his name tag) shoves the shift into park and takes off after the wiry, tennis shoe-clad thug. For the record, the runners are always young, thin, in shape, and wearing tennis shoes. It’s never an easy-to-catch old fat guy in Hush Puppies.

The foot pursuit is something that occurs on the spur of the moment. There’s no time to think things through. No time to plan. No time to run through the mental checklist. No time to remind yourself to do important things, like tell someone which direction you’re heading. Or even to think about routine things, like grabbing your portable radio from the charger. Yep, after twenty strides in total darkness the officer will also remember the flashlight he left lying on the passenger seat next to…darn it, he left his cellphone lying there, too! Therefore, besides the obvious, officers often find themselves alone in what can be a very dangerous situation. Why?

– Bad guys tend to bail out in familiar territory, meaning they know where they’re going. And they often have friends in the area, friends who’ll protect their buddies at all costs, even if that means hurting or killing a cop.

– Unless the officer is in great physical shape (how many older cops have you seen who could win a marathon?) he/she will quickly become winded, possibly after only a couple of blocks. Sure, adrenaline will take you a few steps beyond your normal capacity, but not too much further. What that translates into is a cop who’s sucking wind like an antique church organ when he does finally catch the suspect. And it’s really difficult to restrain and cuff someone when you can’t breathe.

– The officer is wearing a ton of gear and sometimes those goofy, shiny shoes. And let’s not forget those spiffy bus driver hats. Think about it…could you run wearing all that? Why would you even want to run while wearing those cool duds?

So what should officers consider before taking the first step in pursuit of a runner?

– Why did the guy run? Is he wanted? Is he dangerous?

– Where are we? Is the area dangerous? What’s around me? Who’s around me?

– How far away is backup?

– Did I call for backup?

– Should I call for backup?

– What did the guy do? Is it even worth the chase?

– Am I healthy enough to do this?

– What’s around the next corner?

– What am I going to do with the guy when I catch him? What if I nab the thug a mile down the road? Will I be able to manhandle him all the way back to my patrol car?

– Why not call a canine unit and wait for them to arrive?

Even though any pursuit, foot or vehicle, can be unpredictable, there are are few things that are a bit predictable. Like…

Most suspects will make right turns (most people are right-handed). Therefore, when the officer reaches a dead end and needs to pick a direction, a right turn will probably be the correct choice.

The cool part of the right-turn habit is that IF the right-handed suspect is forced to make several left turns, his only option, then he’ll soon stop to hide. Running counterclockwise is not natural to them. And…those same suspects are more apt to hide on the right side of a roadway (in the bushes, a ditch, the woods, etc.).

Wait, it gets better. If two suspects bail on you and they run in the same direction, normally the chase won’t be a long one. When running as a duo, the pair almost always stop to hide before they get very far. So, if you catch one guy behind a stack of pallets, stay alert because his partner is probably laying low inside the nearby dumpster, under the rotten cabbage.

Oh, if the driver runs and the passenger remains in the car, forget the chase. Go for the guy in the car. He’ll snitch. Besides, you’ve got the idiot’s vehicle and registration which, by the way, includes a name and address. Therefore, you can simply drive over to his house and wait for him to arrive after his midnight jog. And, after all that running he’ll probably be too tired to resist the arrest.

Lastly, lay off the doughnuts and hit the treadmill. Or, send the rookie after the guy. You can always follow the pursuit in your patrol vehicle…

*     *     *

The Pursuit Song

Over the river and thru the wood,

To drug dealer’s house we go;

The thug knows the way

To carry the dope,

Thru the alley while sniffing blow, oh!


Over the river and thru the wood,

Oh, how the crook does go!

Coke stings the toes,

And bites his nose,

As over the ground we go.


Over the river and thru the wood,

To have an uncut dose;

Oh, hear the shot ring,


Oh my, he’s shooting at me-ee!


Over the river and thru the wood,

Trot fast my shiny shoes!

Spring over the ground,

Like a tracking hound!

For this is…your unlucky day, punk.

*Thanks to Carole and Steven Shmurak for the idea for today’s article.

8 replies
  1. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    I was a defensive tactics and officer survival instructor at the academy, and I finished each day of training with some sweat-inducing PT followed by me leading the recruits on a nice little jog, usually a 1.5 mile run and sometimes even a 5 mile run. Most of the time those runs were through neighborhoods (on asphalt and concrete) and then through wooded areas, through small creeks, through holes in chain-link fences, up and down steps, and then back, and the return trip was mostly uphill. We also stopped for a few pushup along the way. I figured since I was older than they were, then they should be able to keep up with me. They called their time with me “Hell Week.”

  2. 1015 Adam Henry
    1015 Adam Henry says:

    “PT today will consist of a 1.5 mile run…”

    “Yeah, no problem”

    “you’ll start from the bathrooms and then up the steps…”

    “What do you mean from the bathroom? And how come were not heading to the track?”

    “…Procede through the parking lot, turn left at the gate and up Dawson Ave…”

    “Dawson Ave? That’s a freaking hill leading through a neighborhood. What the hell?”

    “…and then back from the parking lot where we’ll meet back here. You will be timed…”

    “Well at least we have 12 minutes…”

    “Those of you making it back in 8 minutes or less will move on to the next exercise…”


    “12 minutes or later will go through remedial PT”


    “Don’t wash on your first day”

  3. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Hau – And that’s not mentioning all the background noises – fences rattling, dogs barking, the officer huffing, puffing, and panting, people yelling at the officer as he runs by, people cheering for the crook when he passes by, vehicle traffic on nearby streets, horns honking, the officer shouting at people to get out of the way, etc.

  4. Hau
    Hau says:

    Foot pursuits are honestly one of the hardest calls to work as a dispatcher. Everyone has all of the adrenaline pumping of a car pursuit (squeaky voices included); with the added bonuses of trying to translate panting into English and locate landmarks that suddenly are a lot more visual based than geographic.

  5. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Patti – Some agencies require regular fitness testing, but most do not.

    Pat – As usual, it depends. Some departments require the shiny shoes, especially for the officers working day shift, while others do not. Many agencies have finally seen the light and are allowing more comfortable clothing and shoes. But, many still follow tradition.

    As for the length of time for a K-9 officer and his dog to show up…again, it depends. If the officer is working that shift then the response time would be a matter of minutes, if not sooner. If the officer is off duty he’d have to dress (maybe even have to first go home from a restaurant, the movies, shopping, a kid’s ballgame, etc.), get the dog loaded into the car, and then head out. So it could be a while. They probably wouldn’t call out a handler and his dog for something as minor as some street goon running for the heck of it.

    The song, well, I was feeling extra silly this morning.

  6. Pat Marinelli
    Pat Marinelli says:

    I love it! Now you make up name tags with all these funny names. Must get expensive. LOL I.M. Sprinter, too cute.

    Do LEOs usually wear shiny their shoes while on duty? Would they only do this if coming from court or…?

    How long would it take for the K-9 officer to show up to the scene?

  7. Patti Phillips
    Patti Phillips says:

    Great post, Lee!

    Do police officers have to pass a yearly physical evaluation?

    By the way, that song should be sung at the WPA banquet this year. 😉

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