By Robert J. Kaminski, Associate Professor, University of South Carolina; and Geoffrey P. Alpert, Professor, University of South Carolina
The IACP Research Advisory Committee is proud to offer the monthly “Research in Brief” column. This column features evidence-based research summaries that highlight actionable recommendations for Police Chief magazine readers to consider within their own agencies.
The goal of the column is to feature research that is innovative, credible, and relevant to a diverse law enforcement audience.
lthough a substantial amount of research literature exists regarding police motor vehicle pursuits, there has been a relative lack of empirical research on police foot pursuits. However, with exploratory and descriptive studies of foot pursuits in the Richland County, South Carolina, Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) and the Los Angeles County, California, Sheriff’s Department (LASD), this situation has begun to change.1 More recently, researchers used more sophisticated quantitative methods to analyze correlates of suspect and deputy injuries sustained during 267 LASD foot pursuits.2 The study is important because the dynamics of foot pursuits may be different than other types of arrest situations—and so too may be the factors associated with injury.
This Research in Brief highlights the study’s findings and provides suggestions for policy and practice. First some basic descriptive findings are presented, followed by multiple regression results.
The majority (82 percent) of foot pursuits involved chases on foot without the use of a police vehicle. The number of deputies involved in pursuits ranged from one to nine, though nearly half (48 percent) involved only two deputies. The number of suspects ranged from one to three, but the vast majority involved a lone suspect (95 percent). On average, suspects were younger than deputies (26.7 years old and 35.7 years old, respectively). Suspects were believed to be impaired by drugs, alcohol, or mental illness in 41 percent of pursuits; a majority involved suspects with a criminal history (72 percent); and in 25 percent of cases, suspects were charged with a violent felony. Regarding force, suspects assaulted deputies in 42 percent of the pursuits; and in 72 percent, deputies used soft-hand tactics such as grabbing, joint locks, and so forth, followed by hard-hand tactics such as punching and kicking (38 percent), impact weapons (25 percent), pepper spray (18 percent), conducted energy devices (CEDs) (25 percent), and canines (9.4 percent). One or more deputies sustained injuries in 17 percent of the foot pursuits, while one or more suspects sustained injuries in 60 percent of the foot pursuits (most involved a lone suspect being injured). Deputy injuries were relatively minor in 11 percent of the pursuits (bruises, sprains, punctures, or soft tissue damage) and were more serious in 6 percent (fractures, lacerations, or human bites). Suspects sustained minor injuries in 38 percent and more severe injuries in 20 percent of the foot pursuits.
The multiple regression findings indicate that, not unexpectedly, deputies were substantially more likely to sustain injuries when suspects assaulted them and when deputies used hard-hand tactics (except for canines and CEDs, all other types of force were unrelated to deputy and suspect injury). There also was evidence that deputies were more likely to sustain injuries when suspects were impaired, though the effect was not quite statistically significant. Suspects were substantially more likely to sustain injuries—and to sustain more severe injuries—when deputies used canines and when they used hard-hand tactics, though hard-hand tactics were unrelated to injury severity. Impaired suspects also were less likely to sustain injuries, but impairment was unrelated to injury severity. Unexpectedly, suspects were substantially more likely to sustain injuries—and possibly more severe injuries—when deputies deployed CEDs, perhaps because they were “tased” while in forward motion. (Note that routine dart punctures were not counted as injuries.)
Police foot pursuits have come under increased scrutiny in recent years, and law enforcement officials, special councils, and other observers have begun to argue that foot pursuits, like vehicular pursuits, present a heightened risk of harm to officers, suspects, and bystanders. For this reason, law enforcement leaders have called for the use of safer tactics (such as containment) and the implementation of more restrictive policies to limit the circumstances under which officers may pursue on foot fleeing suspects. Although our analysis found no fatalities among the admittedly small sample of foot pursuits in the LASD, the rates of injury among officers and suspects were significant. Whether or not foot pursuits present substantially greater risks to officers and civilians than do other resistive or forceful encounters requires further research, but it is reasonable for administrators to consider adopting the IACP’s model foot pursuit policy in whole or in part, perhaps with modifications to suit local needs and conditions. Given that relatively little is known about the dynamics of foot pursuits and their outcomes, agencies should begin collecting detailed data on foot pursuits to track and analyze these events and outcomes. This would allow the development of evidence-based policies that would help administrators determine whether or not they should develop foot-pursuit policies and how restrictive they should be. It also would allow supervisors to know if their officers or deputies are engaging in unsafe practices on the streets. ♦
1Robert J. Kaminski, A Descriptive Analysis of Foot Pursuits in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (University of South Carolina, 2010), http://artsandsciences.sc.edu/crju/research/lacsd.footpursuits.pdf (accessed December 3, 2012); Robert J. Kaminski, An Exploratory Study of Police Foot Pursuits in the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (University of South Carolina, 2006), http://artsandsciences.sc.edu/crju/downloads/RCSDfootpursuit.pdf (accessed December 3, 2012); and Robert J. Kaminski, “Police Foot Pursuits and Officer Safety,” Law Enforcement Executive Forum 7, no. 3 (March 2007): 59–72.
2Robert J. Kaminski, Jeff Rojek, Hayden P. Smith, and Geoffrey P. Alpert, “Correlates of Foot Pursuit Injuries in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” Police Quarterly 15, no.2 (June 2012):177-196.
Please cite as:
Robert J. Kaminski and Geoffrey P. Alpert, "Recent Findings on Police Foot Pursuits," Research in Brief, The Police Chief 80 (January 2013): 14.