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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.
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Foot Pursuits: A Runaway Policy?

Has the L.A. Sheriff's Department's stance on foot pursuits actually changed, and what might that mean for deputies?

March 18, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

Would deputies deploy on those incidents where a suspect runs but the deputy isn't sure whether the suspect is armed, or not?

"No," Lindblom asserts. "It has to be something that falls on our radar, such as a felony suspect or an obvious threat to officers."

Lindblom observes that there have been many positive dividends to the perimeter mindset as evidenced by a corresponding increase in the number of suspects captured incident to containments these past few years: "Deputies are quicker to establish containments. It's like anything else - the more you do it, the better you get. And I'll tell you this: Unless the guy gets in a house, we're going to get him. Might he go to a rooftop or a tree when we don't have an aero unit up and we miss him? Maybe. But most of the time, we get him."

To be fair, the department still acknowledges that two-man cars can chase and capture so long as they remain together. But how many two-man cars does the department field? Certainly, a much lower number than one-man cars.

And last I heard, the department had a maximum of three helicopters available to assist some 25 sheriff's stations on containments. There might be as many as five K9s available on a given shift, but ETAs are apt to be extended. (Also, what of deploying on suspects not known to be armed?).

Financially hamstrung, the department is having more and more personnel reassigned back to patrol, either permanently or on loan. Is it fielding as many cars as it once did? Will cars have to roll increasingly greater distances to back one another up on containments? And how effective might a containment be given such constraints?

Lindblom's take gives me some hope. Maybe they will be able to surmount such limitations.

In reflecting on prior conversations with my anonymous confidant, I have to acknowledge hearing some optimism-inspiring news.

He'd said that the days of the old guard - Sheriff Block, the insufferable Michael Graham, et al., - were long gone. That the folks passing judgment on deputies' actions today - from Homicide Bureau to Internal Affairs - were much more sympathetic and realistic in appraising the unique challenges that deputies face every day. Moreover, he couldn't recall a single use-of-force review that determined that the force incident was ruled out of policy (unless it was so egregiously out of policy that it put factors into play, e.g., there were grounds for termination).

My informant acknowledged that the department probably hasn't done as much as it could to alleviate the concerns of deputies who continue to wonder how they will be evaluated in the aftermath of some force incident. At the same time, he notes that the influx of returning war veterans has seen a return to a more proactive mindset. These newer deputies have a tendency to be more aggressive in the best sense of the word, displaying a more intuitive tactical sense and initiative. In fact, their only liability is that you occasionally have to pull the reins on them.

"Hey, you don't have 12 guys coming in the door behind you," he says, repeating what he finds himself telling these new deputies during tactical role play situations. "You've got one. Hold up and wait for reinforcements."

Maybe this new - or not so new - policy announcement is borne of such concerns: A perceived need to rein in a new breed of assertive deputies and head off shootings at the pass.

In the end, it sounds like the press release was just a bunch of "smoke and mirrors." That the department isn't deviating much from what it's been teaching its personnel for years.

At least, that's what I hope.

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