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Departments : The Winning Edge

Know Their Flight Plans

To catch criminals who are trying to escape, you have to think like them.

July 01, 2006  |  by Jack H. Schonely

Doubling Back
This popular tactic has been documented numerous times and is one that causes problems for officers on a regular basis. Understanding this tactic will make it clear to officers that they shouldn’t assume that a suspect last seen in a certain direction will continue in that direction.

Many suspects begin running one way and quickly go the opposite direction after officers have lost sight of them. This is a very conscious decision by the suspect, and it is one escape tactic that has been used successfully many times.

There are two very common examples of this tactic. The first involves any block with an alley. The suspect is being chased by officers down a sidewalk. At some point, the suspect turns into the block running between the houses. When the suspect reaches the alley, he or she turns and runs down the alley. The officer observes this turn and assumes that the suspect will continue running down the alley in the same direction he turned. The suspect does continue in that direction, but only for a short distance. Then he or she enters a rear yard on the opposite side of the block and turns back in the opposite direction, moving quickly through yards out of the officers’ view. The suspect then continues running out of the block or hide.

The second example is identical in the path taken, but without the alley. It has been used to return to a vehicle that the suspect just bailed out of moments before. The suspect appears to be making a turn in a particular direction while still in view of the officers, and then he or she doubles back. The officers must show discipline and not be fooled by this action. By containing the entire block and not making any assumptions, you cover all the options. Of course, some suspects make that turn and keep running in that direction as far as they can. Containing the block controls that possibility as well.

Into an Alley
In addition to the use of an alley for a double-back, the alley itself raises a significant concern for an officer chasing a suspect. Once a suspect reaches an alley, he can run without any obstacles for a considerable distance. The time it takes to get out of that block is cut down dramatically for obvious reasons. Many suspects choose to bail out of vehicles in alleys for that very reason. They are able to put distance between themselves and the officers very quickly.

One tactic that has been used is for the suspect to drive into an alley only a few yards before bailing out and running down the alley. The car that the suspect just bailed out of is now blocking officers from chasing the suspect with their patrol cars and they are forced to chase on foot, which is to the suspect’s advantage in the majority of cases.

Officers need to think a step ahead when they see that the suspect is about to run into a block with an alley and consider their options.

Crossing Highways
Desperation on the part of the suspect causes actions that are not reasonable at times. Running across any heavily traveled highway has great risk but can be beneficial to a suspect.

A suspect who runs without hesitation across a highway during a foot pursuit achieves the same result as a suspect in a vehicle pursuit who runs through mid-phase red traffic lights without slowing down; he puts distance between himself and the pursuing officers. Suspects know that officers will slow down and even stop before crossing the highway or going through the red light, and that creates space and time for the suspect. Once the suspect reaches the far side, he or she has time to move without an officer right on their heels.

If the officer is not prepared and does not respond quickly to this tactic, the suspect will probably not be captured. Officers must think a step ahead when they see this possibility in front of them and immediately advise responding units that the suspect may cross a highway and some units should respond to that side of the highway without delay.

Drainage Pipes

Many cities and towns have drainage pipes that are large enough to run through without even ducking to avoid hitting your head. I am not sure if this is a rapidly growing trend or a tactic that’s always been used by criminals and we are just catching on, but it is now very common.

Suspects are entering these pipes, moving a considerable distance through darkness, and then popping up through manhole covers blocks from where they were last seen by officers. If the officer observes the suspect enter the pipe, immediate action must be taken by responding units.

The primary officer should contain the opening, look at the direction of the pipe, and advise units to contain an area in that direction, reminding them to watch the manhole covers for several blocks.

The most common response to this tactic is for all of the responding officers to go to the opening of the pipe. Generally, this doesn’t work. While the officers are standing there formulating a plan to enter the pipe and capture the suspect, the suspect is two blocks away, walking away after coming out of a manhole. Clearing the pipe with a search team may be required at some point, but containing the surrounding manhole covers and escape routes should be the priority.

What about going right into the pipe after the suspect? This may not be a good idea. If the suspect is known to be armed, entering that pipe in most cases has much greater risk than benefit. Being inside a concrete or steel pipe when shots are fired is not a good thing. In addition, communication may be inhibited or nonexistent inside of the pipe, so you may be cut off from backup.

There are two final factors that affect officer safety in this scenario. Most pipes are very slippery and very dark. Even having a flashlight will not help your footing inside of the pipe. All of these things can affect officer safety and should be considered prior to entering any drainage pipe in pursuit of a suspect.

Jack H. Schonely is the author of “Apprehending Fleeing Suspects.” He has 24 years of experience in law enforcement, including more than 20 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. His duties have included patrol, vice, K-9, and air support.

This article was excerpted from “Apprehending Fleeing Suspects: Suspect Tactics and Perimeter Containment” by Jack H. Schonely. The book is available from Charles C. Thomas Publisher Ltd.,, and from

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