The Virtues of Containment
A six-year veteran of the LASD's K-9 detail, Sgt. Eric Lindblom is no stranger to chasing bad guys. As a patrol supervisor, he had at one time been in more vehicle pursuits than any other sergeant on the department and more than a few foot pursuits. Personally, he's still fine with the prospect of chasing bad guys. Professionally, he believes the containment argument has merit.
"Look, if you're chasing a suspect that you know is armed and he runs into a backyard, you don't want to go back there after him," Lindblom points out. "Let us (K-9) roll out and help you. It just doesn't make sense putting yourself in a position where you're probably going to get shot."
Lindblom cites one particular incident wherein a suspect had taken the high ground and was lying in wait with two guns on his person to ambush a deputy. But the sight of an approaching K-9 and additional personnel gave the suspect pause. For Lindblom, it was the potential for a very different outcome that continues to give him pause.
"I don't like to think what would have happened if some deputy ran in that backyard and had to deal with a sudden ambush one-on-one," he says.
Ideally, K-9 should be deployable both by policy and availability, particularly when dealing with suspects known to be armed. But what of those incidents where it isn't known if the suspect is armed or not-will LASD deploy then?
"No," Sgt. Lindblom admits. "It has to be something that falls on our radar such as a felony suspect or an obvious threat to officers."
In such circumstances, one-man units are pretty much obligated to let the suspect run, lest something bad happen and they find themselves left out to hang.
Lindblom acknowledges that a no foot pursuit policy is never going to be an ideal situation for any cop, regardless of the agency he works for. Still, he observes that there have been many positive dividends to LASD's 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," Lindblom notes. "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, and in the last couple of years has re-expanded the role of canines in searching for grand theft auto suspects-a lawsuit-driven "no-no" in preceding years.
Even if LASD's justification for its policy is suspect-and it is-it doesn't discount the fact that foot pursuits are inherently dangerous. Even absent an altercation with a suspect, the threats that confront officers are numerous. Low-hanging branches, undulant terrain, and other unseen factors can cause everything from barked shins and twisted ankles to battered foreheads and bruised egos. For many police agencies, foot pursuits are the number one source of police injuries, and prove a precipitating factor in a second major cause of injury: Uses of force.
When you factor in the recon undertaken by some suspects in anticipation of such pursuits, you have to consider the possibility of booby traps. In Collingswood, N.J., investigators found that drug dealers had cut holes in the floors and placed wires or ropes in various locations throughout the buildings they used to cause officers to trip and fall onto broken glass, nails, or other injury-producing items.
Another factor is the officer's paradigm at the time of the chase. An FBI study found that a significant number of officers who were assaulted incident to foot pursuits were focused on the prospect of effecting arrests: Little consideration was given to the possibility of the suspect becoming a threat. None of the officers in the study had received any prior training or guidance from their departments regarding whether or not to give chase and what action to take thereafter.