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Columns : In My Sights

The Thrill of the Chase

There’s something very primal and exhilarating about running after the bad guy.

May 01, 2007  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

I read the other day about an anthropologist who claims mankind's ancestors and modern canine's ancestors lived and hunted together more than 100,000 years ago. That might well be true. And as I look at the pack of people and dogs I call a family, I often wonder which species changed the other the most?

One of the most canine-like drives I have ever felt is the urge to chase, to pursue, to catch. I must confess to an odd primal thrill I always felt when a miscreant took off running. I wish I could say my mind thought "Tally ho!" in a thick British accent. But, alas, my inner thoughts were more like, "Fetch the bad guy. Fetch the bad guy...Yup, yup, I'm gonna fetch the bad guy!"

I could lie to you and say my foot pursuits were as graceful and swift as a greyhound, but I have a greyhound, and I run nothing like that...I am more in the category of say...a Basset hound. I am just as my high school football coach described me, "On the light side...but slow." This particular trait often caused my chases to go on for rather extended lengths.

Once, on the Navajo Reservation, I chased a misdemeanant for three miles! Even then, I was denied the joy of the catch since a Navajo DPS unit drove up to the guy as he came to a roadway and he just surrendered. All I ended up catching was a boot full of blisters. Officer Begay could not contain himself as he drove me back to my vehicle. Personally, I find giggling at another officer to be poor form.

It was on that same reservation near Chinle that I discovered the perfect medium for my poor running form and good endurance, deep mud. The Chinle Wash is a muddy riverbed the majority of the year and on the day in question almost no water flowed between its banks-only a vast ribbon of mud. I was tracking a bootlegger who had fled from a traffic stop and hidden in the tall reeds and trees that lined the wash when suddenly he bolted out from a bush in front of me and ran right into the wash.

I raced after him, landing in the mud and sinking six or more inches with each step. Thus began the most remarkable display of slow-motion running ever exhibited. Each foot could only be extracted with great effort and a resounding "plop" sound, and so it went. "Plop"..."Plop"..."Plop"

Gradually, it became apparent I was gaining on the lad! I would catch him within the hour. Realizing he was undone he turned toward the bank and aimed for a gap between two stout trees. Head down, he dove for the space...and missed. His head cracked into the tree on the left and he staggered back falling into the mud, trapped like a wooly mammoth in a tar pit. "Excelsior!" I cried. Not really, it just sounds more sophisticated than admitting I let out a great howl of joy at catching my prey.

Years later I still remember that as my favorite foot chase, and also concede what a great advantage I had over most officers in a foot pursuit. My quarry had nowhere to hide, and I could see his hands and what weapons, if any, they might hold. He had no corners to hide around, no cars to crawl under, no dark places to duck into.

So, the next time someone triggers your "gotta fetch 'em" gene remember this: There has been an increase in officers killed in foot pursuits over the last five years; so run wide around those corners, quick peek when necessary...and try to get them into the mud.

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