During any law enforcement incident where a suspect is either at large or at a standoff with law enforcement, setting up a perimeter is vital to a successful conclusion, and the sooner the perimeter is established the better the chance for success. Perimeters are not only necessary for the protection of citizens, but also for the apprehension of the suspects involved.
Although establishing perimeters is well known to tactical teams, the art of creating a successful perimeter is all but unknown to many patrol officers. Even if an officer understands the importance of perimeters, such knowledge can go out the window if the incident becomes critical or catastrophic in property damage or the loss of life.
In virtually every such case, the carnage then becomes compounded with all officers screaming over the air at the same time with no one being heard. Examples of incidents that tend to incite confusion include shootings (especially an officer down), explosions, pursuits, and a suspect fleeing the scene of a crime. Upon hearing some of these calls, where do most officers go? They go to the scene, only to realize that the suspects are far away.
What all law enforcement officers need to know is that when suspects begin to flee unchecked, they almost always continue until out of perceived danger or until exhausted. Unless you stop them, they’ll get away.
Unless needed at the scene, the smart officer—the cunning officer—will broadcast that he or she is taking a position at a particular location in order to observe the area. Other officers should take positions based on this information until the area is surrounded by a visual perimeter. The more personnel available, the better the perimeter, but limited personnel doesn’t mean a perimeter won’t work. If a suspect thinks he is surrounded and decides to hide, smart officers are at an advantage. If officers believe there is no chance to find the suspect, he will escape.
City vs. Country
If officers are to corral suspects, they must be disciplined in immediately setting up a perimeter, and the direction and shape the perimeter takes can depend on many factors.
Assuming we are dealing with a typical urban area with conventional blocks, two officers may be able to affect a perimeter using diagonal deployment with no information other than the direction in which the suspect was seen running.
Maintain close radio contact with all involved officers to establish and maintain a secure perimeter.
If one of the officers sees a suspect flee across a street, this information is immediately broadcast to the second officer so he or she can move one block in that direction. The initial officer remains on location until the other officer is in position in case the suspect doubles back. The first officer can move to the next corner if the second officer observes the suspect come through to the next block. This practice continues until the suspect decides to hide or surrenders. This gives other units time to respond if available.
If an area is more rural with natural boundaries such as lakes, or has high points such as hills where an officer can drive, observing suspects’ movements can be much easier. The fact that the suspect can also see a police car more easily in this type of area should be of little concern, as the officer generally maintains the upper hand. Even if seeing an officer causes a suspect to change his course, it is usually only a matter of time.