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Tracking Techniques - Officer Survival Issues

R.S. Eden

Deputy Kevin O’Shaugnessy of the King County Sheriff Office were called to track an armed robbery suspect who was armed with a .357 magnum revolver. At the start of the track the officer was accompanied by two backup officers who were both armed with shotguns. During the track both backup officers got separated from the dog handler and he was subsequently on his own when his service dog Jake encountered the suspect. The suspect first engaged the dog, shooting the dog in the head and chest. In the subsequent firefight the suspect was shot by Deputy O’Shaugnessy and successfully apprehended. The dog survived the wounds he sustained and eventually went back to work on the street.

In this case the there are a number of things that occurred that are consistent in many confrontations. First, the officer was alone when the confrontation occurred. The dog was engaged by the suspect first. That is the immediate threat to the sus pect. It was found that the suspect had carefully chosen a spot that would afford him cover, and leave the officer relatively open.

This is a favorite of suspects who are setting up for am bush. Suspect forces you into the open while he waits in bush under cover and/or concealment.

In all cases, the suspect knows the point where confrontation will take place. He chooses where the fight will occur. He preps and waits. He has a plan…you must have a plan that is flexible enough and effective enough to counteract his attack. Suspects often use open areas to circle back to a vehicle or get in behind you. If a suspect is not familiar with the area, and starts to feel disoriented or lost, he will likely go to ground.

We all talk about the need to have backup officers with us on tracks, however we all know that for one reason or another we all end up going on tracks after suspects on our own, probably more often than not.

We must be especially careful and prepared to handle situa tions on our own. When the worst situation that can occur does occur, it is always worse when we are alone.

Be prepared mentally to handle any type of situation and prepare yourself physically to handle multiple offender situa tions. When your dog apprehends a suspect on a track, ensure you continue to be aware of your surrounding area as you go in to make the arrest.

Handcuff your suspect, and do a complete physical search before proceeding on. If you are not in a position to have another officer come into the area to take custody of the first suspect, handcuff him with both hands around the nearest tree, lamp post or other immovable object. Ensure you cuff both hands.

If there is nothing close to cuff the suspect to, then cuff one arm to the opposite leg. You can pick up your suspects on your return trip or direct containment officers where to go to re trieve the suspect while you continue the track. Should you encounter two suspects at the same time, handcuff the first suspect with his hands behind his back. Do the same with the second suspect after interlocking his arms with the first. This gives you maximum control, particularly with dangerous offenders.


When your dog indicates that you are closing on suspect:

  • Shut off light.
  • Ready weapon as you move.
  • If dog released, locate visually or by listening.
  • If dog locates suspect, order suspect out and order him to show his hands.
  • If at all possible, try to triangulate yourself and your dog to the suspect to divide his attention.
  • Face down suspect in spread eagle fashion.
  • If dog contacts suspect, control and cuff suspect prior to calling dog off. Maintain control. Work rapidly.
  • Be aware of a setup. You may be thinking you are after one suspect when in fact there are two or more.

Multiple Suspect Concerns

I attended a call of a suspicious vehicle that was found running, parked in the driveway of a farmers property. The vehicle had American plates on it, and I work in a jurisdiction in Canada very near the United States border. Upon attending it was learned that the car had been found idling in the farmers driveway upon his return home. The right rear passenger window was smashed out, and it appeared that the car may have been hotwired.

I unsuccessfully tried to initiate a track in an attempt to locate whoever had left the vehicle. Unable to start a track I proceeded to do building searches of all the outbuildings on the property. I was alone at the time as there were no other offi cers available for cover. I searched adjacent farms and was never able to locate the individuals responsible. I believed that I was looking for the driver of a vehicle which we believed to be stolen. This was soon confirmed by our dispatch who received a message from an adjacent jurisdiction that the car had run the border crossing at their point about 2 hours earlier, less than 10 miles from my location. I felt that I was looking for one suspect for sure, possibly two suspects, and continued my search. I learned afterwards that there were in fact three suspects who were seen in the car when it crossed the border.

I had gone to a call of an abandoned auto, and ended up doing a search with my dog alone, improperly covered, and not mentally prepared for more than two suspects. Again, this basic call could have turned out to be a disaster. Obviously these people were intent on fleeing. They ignored officers at the border and ran the customs gate in a stolen vehicle. Until the late dispatch came in, I only new that I had an abandoned auto that was left running in a farmers driveway. I cannot say what would have happened had I encountered the suspects, and I am glad that I didn’t. Always expect the unexpected, and take a backup with you whenever possible.

Always cuff suspect prior to search and walk out of the area. If you are after multiple suspects, cuff suspect to near est tree, post etc., and ensure you cuff both hands. Continue track. Ensure security.

A typical example of the importance of cuffing both hands of a suspect and not simply cuffing one wrist to a stationary object was an incident I had a couple of years back. I made the typical error of being sloppy, and luckily I wasn’t hurt. However, things could have been much different.

I was patrolling a residential district on night shift, near a high school when I observed a small car exit the parking lot of the school. As the car left the area I noted that there was no front plate mounted on the vehicle, that the car was dirty, and that a clean plate was wired loosely on the rear of the vehicle.

Noting the obvious possibilities I negotiated a U-turn to check the vehicle. As I did so the suspect vehicle accelerated rapidly and a short chase ensued with the driver of the suspect vehicle losing control and crashing into the front of a yard. As I exited my patrol car I observed both suspects exit the passenger door of the car and attempt to flee. I released my dog on the lead suspect who by now had reached the top of a ravine. At the same time I tackled the driver of the vehicle. Not want ing to leave my dog vulnerable and on his own for any length of time, I quickly handcuffed the driver to his car by cuffing one wrist, and locking the other cuff to the door pillar of the car.

I followed in the direction that I had last seen the dog, and could hear him fighting with the suspect in the creek at the bottom of the ravine. When I got there the suspect was in the water up to his waist with the dog holding onto his hip. After effecting the arrest on this suspect I proceeded to assist him back up the ravine.

Upon arriving near the top I was met by another officer who attended the scene as backup. There were other patrol cars now on the scene as well. I thought they had taken the driver who I had handcuffed to the car into custody as he was no longer there. However, as I approached the car I saw that the one handcuff was still locked to the door post of the car. The links of the cuffs had been cut and the suspect was long gone. I had only been out of sight of this suspect for about 3 minutes.

This was a mistake I will never make again. I had not properly secured both wrists of the suspect, allowing him a large degree of freedom. I had also handcuffed him to his own vehicle, instead of taking him to a more secure position, out of reach of his car. He had in fact reached back into the car, obtained a set of bolt cutters and made good his escape almost as soon as I was out of sight. Worst of all, I failed to search him before I carried on. Any one of these mistakes in themselves could have had fatal results if the suspect had access to a weapon inside the vehicle. It is embarrassing to admit such stupid errors, however at the same time it was a valuable learning experience from which I can now draw on.

Let my mistake be your learning experience as well. How many officers, including yourself, do you know who have made similar mistakes when in hot pursuit of multiple suspects? I can guarantee you that I will never make that error again. I have also switched from my issue chain link handcuffs to hinged cuffs as an added degree of security.


Try to stay to left in blind spot of the suspect…most look over their right shoulder. It will also take them longer to target you if they are armed and naturally right handed, as they have a further distance to move their hand in order to bring a weapon into play.

If suspect is visibly carrying a weapon, try to run on the side opposite the one the suspect is carrying the gun.

Draw your weapon and mentally prepare yourself to use it. Be aware of your carry method, and index your finger on the trigger guard while moving to prevent accidental discharge. If carrying an automatic, it is advisable to get into the habit of decocking between moves.

Watch for and use cover as you go. Always be aware of cover no matter where you are. If you get in the habit of look ing for cover during your more routine tracks, you will find that it will become second nature to you and you will be able to respond quicker should you need to get to cover.

Never blindly follow suspect around a corner. Also, you will find that covering a corner from a wide angle provides you with better advantages when in a pursuit situation.

Never release your dog unnecessarily, however don’t hold on to him where he becomes a liability. You have to judge the circumstances to the situation.

Get to cover first, shoot, and then move your location if you can safely do so without compromising yourself.

If your dog is sent and contacts the suspect, maintain cover. Recall your dog to you from a position of cover. Follow through with proper cuffing and search procedures, preferrably with a backup officer to assist.

Practice extensively with blanks until this is second nature to your dog. This will prevent confusion when you need him on the street. Extend your training to live fire excercises on the range.


Should you suddenly be confronted by gunfire, if you do nothing else…move. If you can assess your opponents position as you move. In most cases you will likely go to your left. Most bad guys will usually go to ground on the right side of the track, and this action alone will in most cases put some distance between you and the offender.

If you are using a flashlight, shut it off immediately. Be aware that rechargeable flashlights leave a momentary tracer of light when they dim down. This can expose your direction of travel to a suspect. Point the head of the light downwards as you move and you will prevent him from seeing the tracer on the light.

Cover is a priority, concealment at a minimum where cover is not practical due to your location.

Engage target only if you see him. Don’t waste rounds. Control your fear. You will be all right if you take control of your situation.

Do not worry about your dog. Let him do what he does best. He will either save your life or die trying, but you must look after yourself first.


Engage in shooting scenarios using blanks. Set up for range work and allow your dog to become accustomed to the work involved. As you progress, you can start to include live fire routines into your programs. These training excercises are vital. Although you may be lucky enough never to have to use your weapon to protect yourself, if you ever do need it, you will have the confidence that your dog will react appropriately. To enter into a real situation and find that your dog is confused by all the gunfire and confusion, will only increase your liablity.

Note: More advanced information on this subject during sessions instructed at the International Police K9 Conferences held annually in various locations throughout North America.

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