Photo courtesy of Amaury Murgado.
Each year more criminals are using bicycles as a way to enhance their criminal activities. In January, a Phoenix officer who approached a subject on his bicycle suffered life-threatening injuries after he was shot three times, including in the head, during a foot pursuit. Considering this very real danger, now is as good a time as any to focus on how to deal with suspects on bicycles.
This article will go over some strategies and tactics to consider when dealing with such suspicious persons. I will discuss an overall strategy that I consider important first and then follow with suggested tactics.
Awareness Strategy: Operational awareness includes knowing the geographic area you patrol, keeping your head in the game at all times, and thinking in terms of contingencies (what ifs).
Tactics: For some reason there are officers that tend to drop their guard when suspects are on bicycles more so than when they are on motorcycles or in cars. In many respects, what form or type of transportation makes no difference, as the dangers associated with the unknown are the same.
For example, weapons can be hidden on a person whether riding a bicycle, motorcycle, or when sitting in a car. Therefore, make the best approach you can, from the best angle you can. This way you can scan for danger clues or pre-attack indicators as you approach. You must think ahead and constantly evaluate your surroundings so there are no extra surprises if the call goes bad.
Be prepared for the higher threat level and don't lower your guard until you prove otherwise. Look for avenues of approach and escape, not just from the suspect's point of view but from your own as well. Always remember that the suspect could be acting alone or may be part of a larger group. Suspects on bicycles have been known to be lookouts and designated as an early warning device. Make sure you call in your location and give your dispatch a better description of the suspect so others can locate you (or them) if necessary. As you get closer, start thinking in terms of your positioning in relation to the suspect and the environment.
Positioning Strategy: Keep the tactical high road by placing yourself in a position where you are strong and the suspect is weak.
Tactics: I feel it's better to make the suspect come to you and not the other way around. I like them to move from where they are comfortable. Use your car to position yourself between it and the suspect. If the suspect were to attack, he would have to run around or go over a section of your car to get to you. If you can't use your car for whatever reason as an obstacle, remember that distance is your friend.
The initial few moments of your contact are the most important as it sets the tone for the rest of the encounter. Also, keep in mind that suspects are evaluating and assessing you as much as you are them. If you position yourself properly, you are cutting into their available options. Assuming your bad guy hasn't bailed on you upon contact, if you have made a decent approach and positioned yourself properly, the suspect is left with three options.
Be Prepared Strategy: In all calls, a suspect has three basic options: cooperate, fight, or run. Anything else is just a form or combination of any of the three.
Tactics: Knowing his three options in advance gives you the upper hand if you take advantage of it. Being prepared begins way before you ever went on duty that day. Being prepared includes working out regularly, eating healthy, and being consistent in your training.
Training, by the way, must include combatives and controlling techniques. I am not suggesting you train like an Olympic athlete or use weights until you become a knuckle dragger. But, if you graduated a decent police academy, you already know what you need to do because you have already done it to graduate. Don't be that slug who relies on good luck or wishful thinking as a strategy. If the suspect cooperates, it makes it an easier call for you. However, if he fights you, you better know how to fight back. If he runs, you better have a plan.
Contact Strategy: You need to decide if it's an exigent circumstance or one that you can take your time with. You should be prepared for both.
Tactics: What starts as a consensual encounter could end up a deadly one. Hopefully you have approached at a good angle and positioned yourself well. You should try to take away the bicycle as a weapon or means of escape right from the get-go. I've known instances where the bicycle was leveraged against an officer in order to help create distance and time between them. Taking the bicycle out of play can be as simple as stating, "Can you park the bike so we can talk over here?" If the subject says no, then there must be a reason so don't drop your guard when using your next approach.
Whether the subject stays on his bicycle or not, watch your distance as you approach for your interview. If he can touch you, he can hurt you. If the suspect takes off on you, decide if you are going to chase after him or use your resources to help you instead. Do not let your ego get in the way.
Sometimes the suspect has his own plan and might be suckering you into some type of obstacle or ambush. The reality with suspects using bicycles is that the biggest danger is not the bicycle itself being used as an offensive tool or method of escape, but what the suspect does when he or she is off the bicycle and standing toe to toe with you.
Pursuit Strategy: If you run after a fleeing suspect, remember the basics.
Tactics: Try to call in that you're in foot pursuit over the radio. This is where having updated your location and given a description of the suspect in your earlier step pays off. Most bad guys have a furious 40- to 60-yard kick, and then slow down or even stop after that. Keep the suspect in sight unless you know for sure you can close in and obtain control. Keep giving out your location so anyone responding to help you can find you. Remember to take any turns wide so you can make the angles work for you. You don't want to be surprised by gunfire or a bat as you take a corner too close. A suspect may be able to outrun you, but he can't outrun your radio.
Control Strategy: Life is always about choices; in general, the suspect has two. He can follow your lawful orders or he can follow your lawful orders. If he doesn't follow your lawful orders then you have two choices; you can either disengage or you can escalate.
Tactics: Use only the force necessary to obtain control. The level of force is dictated by the suspect's actions. I teach a generic principle at our regional academy: If you are fighting for control for more than 30 seconds, you are losing and you need to try something else. I preach over and over again that you have to disengage or escalate. Again, don't let your ego override reality.
If your favorite combatives technique isn't working, try something else. It's a given that sometimes you have to escalate in order to gain control. Escalating can be as simple as using multiple strikes to overwhelm and confuse the suspect or as deadly as shooting him because your life or that of another is on the line. You have to be prepared for both.
Tactics Trump Transportation
Maintaining a constant overall strategy is extremely important with regard to approaching any suspicious person or potential suspect. The tactics you employ are equally as important. You have to tailor them to meet the demands of each situation you encounter. The concerns involved when approaching a suspect on a bicycle are not that much different than those for approaching suspects in general.
Officers tend to get hurt because of what the suspect does (and what officers fail to do) when he or she is off the bicycle. For example, if you get too close and get sucker punched, that has nothing to do with the suspect being on a bicycle but more with your positioning. You need to understand that it's not the bicycle that's important, but the strategies and tactics you employ.
Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has more than 25 years of law enforcement experience, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.