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Establishing a Foot Pursuit Policy.

Running in to Danger

Both of these officers died while pursuing suspects on foot. Many more have sustained serious injuries while chasing fleeing violators. [3] While vehicle pursuits have garnered much media attention and caused many law enforcement agencies to rethink their pursuit policies, foot chases and the resultant injuries and deaths to officers appear to have received little consideration.

In fact, today's law enforcement officers have manuals and polices and procedures that cover virtually everything--wearing uniforms, testifying in court, parking police cruisers, qualifying with firearms, supervising employees, and even pursuing suspects in vehicles. However, when it comes to foot chases, officers seem to lack not only policies and procedures but also training. [4] Why?


First and foremost, pursuing fleeing suspects constitutes a basic function of law enforcement officers. Because officers do this activity every day, they often become complacent about the dangers inherent in chasing suspects on foot and develop a false sense of security. [5] For example, officers make arrests, break up fights, and chase and catch suspects on a daily basis and rarely get hurt. This can blur their vision to the threats that actually can occur in their everyday work.

Moreover, FBI research has shown that a significant number of officers assaulted during foot pursuits had no plan of action other than arresting the suspect. [6] The research also revealed that officers giving chase often do not recognize that suspects can turn threatening or that suspects could lead them into prearranged traps. None of the officers in the study had received any training or guidance from their departments about when to chase a suspect on foot or what action to take during the chase or after catching the suspect.

Additionally, few statistics exist on the number of officers killed or injured while pursuing suspects on foot. For example, the FBI's annual Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted publication presents numerous Statistics--such as type of weapon, time of day, type of assignment, and circumstances at the scene of the incident- [7] relative to line-of-duty officer deaths and assaults. However, the publication contains no statistics on the number of officers killed or injured in foot pursuits. Because the FBI does not compile this information, readers must examine the individual summaries of officers killed to determine how many officers died during foot pursuits. For example, in the two incidents at the beginning of this article, one of the officers died after responding to a disturbance call and the other after making a traffic stop, but both also were involved in foot pursuits that ultimately resulted in their deaths. Law enforcement agencies and researchers would benefit from knowing not only the circumstances or calls for service during which officers lost their lives or sustained injuries but also if these violations led to foot chases that subsequently resulted in these deaths or injuries.

Finally, both officer complacency and the lack of accurate statistics on the number of officers killed or injured in foot chases reveal the need for law enforcement agencies to consider developing and implementing foot pursuit policies and procedures. While officers may instinctively pursue and attempt to overtake fleeing suspects, they need to realize that specific guidelines and procedures may not only improve their success rate but also save their lives. [8]


The Collingswood, New Jersey, Police Department developed a foot pursuit policy as a result of an annual safety committee review in 1997. While examining the types of injuries sustained by its officers, the department discovered that several had occurred during foot pursuits. This prompted the department to look at previous years' injuries, which revealed similar patterns. About the same time, investigators learned that area drug dealers had booby-trapped many vacant residences in the city so they could lure officers into these specific buildings and not only evade capture but also injure officers. For example, suspects had cut holes in the floors or placed wires or ropes in various locations throughout the buildings to cause officers to trip and fall onto broken glass, nails, or other injury-producing items. The department began to realize that it needed to find alternatives to "running down the suspect."

Developing the Policy

The Collingswood Police Department wanted to develop a foot pursuit policy that would secure a balance between protecting the lives of its officers and the public and upholding its duty to enforce the law and apprehend violators. To this end, the department based its policy on the many factors that officers must consider when they initiate foot pursuits. These include the nature of the offense or call for service, the location and surrounding area involved, the type and availability of communication, the presence of physical danger, the physical condition and abilities of the officers involved, and the safety of the officers and the general public. Because unique situations arise in law enforcement, the policy could not address all possible circumstances. Therefore, the department intended that the policy would guide its officers' decisions about initiating, continuing, or ending foot pursuits.

Defining the Terms

After developing the primary purpose of the foot pursuit policy, the department set out to define the concepts and individuals involved in foot chases. The department determined that-

* a foot pursuit means the physical attempt by an officer(s), without the aid of a vehicle or other motorized device, to detain, arrest, or otherwise take physical custody of an individual who attempts to flee on foot;

* a law enforcement officer defines any individual sworn to uphold the law, certified by the Police Training Commission, and currently employed by a public safety agency;

* a supervisor is a law enforcement officer who, by virtue of rank or assignment, directs or supervises the activities of other officers;

* a violator includes any individual who a police officer reasonably believes has committed an offense or poses an immediate threat to the safety of the public or other officers;

* the team concept describes the practice of having two or more officers work together during a foot pursuit. The officers work in unison via direct or indirect communication to coordinate their efforts, remain aware of the location of officers and suspects, and keep abreast of the status of the pursuit.

Establishing the Procedures

The Collingswood Police Department clearly understood that a police officer has the authority, at all times, to attempt to stop any individual suspected of committing any criminal offense, violation, or traffic infraction. However, the department also realized that while the officer initiates the stop, the violator provokes the pursuit by fleeing. Therefore, the department wanted its officers to base their decisions on whether to pursue a fleeing suspect on the degree of risk to themselves or others.

To aid officers in making such decisions, the department developed five criteria that restrict the use of foot pursuits. While the department did not want to stop its officers from capturing fleeing suspects, it did want them to consider the possible consequences of such actions. Therefore, the department determined that its officers should not conduct foot pursuits--

1) into vacant or occupied buildings, structures, confined spaces, or wooded/isolated locations without using the team concept or without supervisory authorization, except in the event of extreme urgency, such as the immediate threat to the safety of the general public or other officers;

2) if they believe that the danger to pursuing officers or the public outweighs the necessity for immediate apprehension;

3) if they get disarmed or lose possession of their service weapons;

4) if they lose contact with their fellow officers or the department's communication center; or

5) if they lose visual contact with the violator and become unsure of the suspect's whereabouts or continued direction of travel.

Along with these restrictions, the department established procedures for reinstating pursuits and conducting interjurisdictional pursuits. Accordingly, officers should reinstate any previously terminated foot pursuit consistent with the authorization criteria for initiating a new pursuit. In interjurisdictional pursuits, the original pursuing jurisdiction should provide timely notification of a foot pursuit in progress to any other jurisdiction that the pursuit enters.

Finally, the department set out procedures for primary officers, supervisors, and communication personnel. Primary officers should advise communication personnel as soon as possible about the situation. If other officers are on the scene or arrive shortly afterward, primary officers should communicate with them to set up a perimeter in the area to contain the violator. If supervisors receive prompt notification of foot pursuits from communication personnel or officers at the scene, they should decide as quickly as possible whether to continue or terminate the pursuit.

Reviewing the Incidents

The department reviews foot pursuits for compliance with applicable policy and operating procedures. It also examines these incidents to identify the need for remedial training of individual officers or specific areas of emphasis in agencywide training on foot pursuits.

Conducting Training

Twice a year, all of the department's officers attend foot-pursuit training in conjunction with use-of-force training and the firearms requalification process. These in-services cover applicable legal statutes, department policies and procedures, and decision-making skills, while providing an opportunity for officers to ask questions, air their concerns, and offer suggestions for improving the policy and procedures.


Although the Collingswood Police Department has had its foot pursuit policy in effect for only 2 years, it has seen several notable changes in how its officers handle foot pursuits and fewer injuries to its officers. For example, since the policy's inception, officers contact the communication center more often before engaging suspects in foot pursuits. They also maintain communication with the center and request backup assistance more frequently. Further, officers generally use the team concept of setting up a perimeter around the pursuit area rather than just chasing after fleeing suspects.

Moreover, the department suspected that many of its veteran officers might resist the policy because they had chased and caught suspects for years and received few serious injuries. However, because the department solicited feedback from its officers and included their input in policy revisions, even veteran officers have begun to embrace the concept of following an established procedure when chasing fleeing suspects. Overall, the department has accomplished its main objective of encouraging its officers to consider the risks and benefits of foot pursuits when circumstances indicate a high probability of injury.


Law enforcement officers risk their lives every day in the performance of their duties. The daily struggle to safeguard their fellow citizens exacts a heavy toll in officer deaths and injuries every year. Chasing fleeing suspects on foot represents an instinctive but inherently dangerous activity for law enforcement officers. Whether because veteran officers become complacent after many years of injury-free pursuits or because no national repository exits to compile statistics on these incidents, the law enforcement community has not focused on this important officer safety issue.

Collecting statistics that accurately reveal the number of officers killed and injured during foot pursuits would raise officer awareness and encourage agencies to train their officers in effective and safe methods of chasing fleeing suspects. Law enforcement professionals should work together to compile, analyze, and publish such information on a national level and determine policies and procedures that would help officers enforce the law without unduly endangering themselves.

To this end, the Collingswood, New Jersey, Police Department developed and implemented a foot pursuit policy. While not an attempt to eliminate foot pursuits, the policy sets forth basic elements that officers should consider when faced with fleeing suspects. The policy has brought the hazards of foot pursuits to the surface and shown officers that they must temper their instinctive reaction of chasing fleeing suspects and consider the potentially life-threatening consequences of rashly running into danger.


(1.) Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 1997 (Washington, DC, 1998) 46.

(2.) Ibid, 57-58.

(3.) For a detailed examination of assaults on law enforcement officers, see Anthony J. Pinizzotto, Edward F. Davis, and Charles E. Miller III, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, In the Line of Fire: A Study of Selected Felonious Assaults on Law Enforcement Officers (Washington, DC, 1997).

(4.) For 2 years, Mr. Bohrer taught a course on the use of deadly force for FBI National Academy students. During this time, he asked over 250 officers from around the country if their departments had a policy on foot pursuits. While most of these officers agreed that such a policy could reduce injuries and possibly deaths to police personnel, to date, only Chief Garrity has said that his agency has a policy on foot chases.

(5.) For a general discussion of overcoming officer complacency, see Samuel G. Chapman, Cops, Killers and Staying Alive (Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1986), 58-60.

(6.) Supra note 3.

(7.) These circumstances include responding to disturbance calls, making arrests, quelling civil disorders, handling prisoners, investigating suspicious persons or circumstances, confronting ambushes, dealing with individuals with mental illness, and pursuing or stopping traffic violators.

(8.) For additional information on foot pursuit tactics, see Gerald W. Garner, Surviving the Street: Officer Safety and Survival Techniques (Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1998), 57-61; Donovan Jacobs, Street Cop: Innovative Tactics for Taking Back the Streets (Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, 1993) 47-58; Jason Harney, "Control 3 Mary 1, Foot Pursuit!!! Surviving and Having Success in a Foot Pursuit Comes Down to Defensive Tactics and Physical Fitness"; available from[sim]halbrown/foot_pursuit.html; accessed September 29, 1999; Foot Pursuit produced by the Los Angeles, California, Sheriff's Department, 16 min., Coronet/MTI, videocassette; and The Calibre Press Street Survival Newsline located on the Calibre Press Web site at

(9.) Supra note 3, 59.

(10.) Supra note 1, 43-44.

March 8, 1997, Winter Haven, Florida: "The male allegedly fled into nearby woods, and the officer, who was wearing body armor, pursued him on foot. Backup officers arriving on the scene moments later heard gunshots and immediately began a search of the area." [1] They found the victim officer several yards away with a fatal gunshot wound to the face.

July 20, 1997, Portland, Oregon: "Recognizing the individual as the suspect they were looking for, the officers both gave chase into the overgrown backyard of the residence where they became separated by a hedge. The victim officer was shot at close range with a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun in the hand, leg, and fatally in the sternum, just above the collar of his protective vest. " [2]

Officer Injured During a Foot Pursuit

While on vehicle patrol, the victim officer and his partner saw two individuals in an automobile. After determining that the pair matched the description of two suspects wanted for possessing a handgun, the officers stopped the vehicle. The passenger immediately fled on foot, and the victim officer chased him for several blocks. After the victim officer lost sight of the suspect, he began searching an area in front of a building. The suspect, hiding in nearby bushes, opened fire with a small-caliber handgun and wounded the officer in the head and legs, causing extensive injury. The assailant escaped from the scene but surrendered to authorities 2 days later. The victim officer survived the attack but could not resume his duties and retired from the department. [9]

Officer Killed During a Foot Pursuit

After responding to a domestic abuse call, the victim officer saw a man fitting the suspect's description run into a field. The officer exited his patrol vehicle and chased the man through some tall weeds. During the pursuit, the suspect turned and fired a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun, striking the officer in the wrist, twice in his protective vest, and once just above the vest. The victim officer returned gunfire, striking the suspect twice in the torso. The pursuit continued until the suspect fatally wounded himself in the chest. The officer died later at a local hospital. [10]

Tips for Surviving Foot Pursuits

To minimize the risk of injury or death, officers should heed some time-proven techniques that veteran officers have used to safely capture fleeing suspects. During foot pursuits, officers should--

* always radio their dispatchers to advise of their location, the reason for pursuing the suspect, and the direction of the chase;

* always ensure that suspects who flee from vehicles do not have accomplices in the car who may attack from behind;

* always take their vehicle keys with them to avoid having suspects return to the scene and flee in police units;

* always wait for backup if they believe that the suspect is armed;

* always try to follow the same general path as the suspects so that the suspects discover any hidden obstacles--such as clotheslines, wires, cables, holes, and sprinkler heads--first; and

* always remain cautious, in control, and alert for additional threats and other changes in the situation.

Source: Gerald W. Garner, Surviving the Street: Officer Safety and Survival Techniques (Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1998), 57-61.
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Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2000
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