Focus on Foot Pursuits
Strategic Initiatives in Risk Management, Part 3
By: Adrienne Quigley and Randy Means
In 2000, a plainclothes police officer from the City of Alexandria, Va., spotted a wanted suspect in the courtyard of an apartment complex. The suspect fled on foot and the officer quickly gave chase. He was closing the gap when he hit a knee-high chain that was set up between two posts to restrict vehicle traffic. The impact severed all of the arteries in one of the officer’s legs, eventually requiring amputation just below the knee.
In 2007, Reading, Pa., police officers responded to a fight in progress. Once on-scene, an officer located a possible suspect. After a brief conversation, the suspect fled on foot. As the officer was pursuing him, the suspect turned and fired four shots from a .40 caliber handgun fatally wounding the officer.
In 2010, a Riverside, Calif. police officer located and attempted to stop a suspect vehicle in a hit-and-run accident. The driver pulled over and ran. The officer called for backup and initiated a foot pursuit. While chasing the suspect, the officer slipped and fell. As the officer lay on the ground, the suspect came back and struck the officer several times with a bar, then disarming him and fatally shooting him in the head with his own service weapon.
It is clear that foot pursuits are dangerous and dramatically so. Independent risk management studies have shown that foot pursuits are one of the largest contributors to workers’ compensation losses, partly because of the number of injuries sustained but also because of their severity. In 2006, 20 percent of the law enforcement officers feloniously killed in the line of duty were engaged in foot pursuits at the time of their death.
Contributing factors appear to include officer complacency, failure to develop an action plan for what to do once the offender is overtaken, and the inability to recognize that a suspect could turn and become a threat at any moment.
Training and proper policy implementation can mitigate and reduce these deficiencies by tempering an officer’s instinct to chase at all costs. Unfortunately, only a few agencies provide adequate training in this area and even fewer have a policy governing officers’ decision-making and actions regarding foot pursuits.
According to the FBI study, Violent Encounters, only 20 percent of officers interviewed received foot pursuit training in their basic training. Where training was provided it averaged two hours. No officer interviewed received any in-service training after the academy.
In 1997, the Collinwood Police Department in New Jersey identified foot pursuits as the greatest cause of officer injuries in that agency. Consequently, they created a departmental policy governing foot pursuits and requiring officers to take into account the inherent dangers involved. It also established bi-annual training in foot pursuits. They noticed an immediate difference in how officers handled pursuits and a significant decrease in officer injuries. Despite the Collinwood success story, few agencies have taken similar steps.
In Part Four, the results from the LASD study on foot pursuits.