I am the “tracker” functioning as part of a tracking team. We are HOT on the trail of men that are fleeing the scene of their crimes. I can tell from the sign I am reading that we are closing on them very quickly. Track someone far enough and you start to “see” them in your head. Tall or short, fit or heavy, and even how they walk. The good news from this sign is that they are tired. We are not – and the feeling of closing with our quarry is fierce in all of us. The team is feeling the hunt and our focus is knife sharp.
The spoor drops down into a wash, and our team drops down into the gully with flankers out for security. Just as we are about to pop out of the cut, the lead instructor, David Scott Donelan, leans over and gives a gentle tug on my elbow. Pulling my head close, he whispers in my ear. “They are close. Do you want to know, how very close they are?” (All this in a Rhodesian accent, which makes it all better) I give a quick nod, and he reaches forward and plucks out a flat dark stone from the bank of the creek. He lifts it close to my eyes and on its surface is a small, dark wet dot of moisture. As we both watch it shrinks, shrinks, and then pop it disappears. David again leans close and whispers, “that was sweat.” I am here to tell you that if prey drive was gasoline I could still be driving on that moment. I frankly wanted to bay like a hound and bound down the trail. I have done a lot of fine training in a long career, but as far as the high water mark – that was it.
Less than 60 yards later we were in direct contact.
High Desert – Mesquite, NV Training Day 01 at 1000 hours
Tracking just wasn’t happening for me. On simple things in a box of sand I had done ok, but out here where it got harder to see, I just wasn’t getting it. Three guys had just gone over this ground in front of me and I could see not one indicator. David Scott Donelan took a knee and started talking to me about heel strike, and toe dig and the flattening and regularity which could be indicators of sign. Slowly, like turning on one of those lights with a dimmer switch, he was able to help me find a “print.” Then I found another on my own. Like a kid on a bike I was off, pedaling my butt off for about 50 yards until I crashed, on terrain that I didn’t have the skills to work. Once again it was D.S. Donelan who dusted me off and helped me work through it. Slowly, from that first day on things began to fall into place for me.
I relate the two out of sequence to you to illustrate that dayon one I was struggling just to SEE sign, and late in day #3 I am tracking people at speed, over hill and dale! This is NOT something you have to be on a vision quest to learn. It doesn’t demand you spend 4 hours in the sauna, or eat any strange dead critters. You just need someone who is really good to show you how to see and read what’s there.
My assignments to the Training Unit, the Community Support Division, and then Watch Command as a Lieutenant have kept me from handling the kind of call load that a working officer would be exposed to. This has limited my “being there” at the right time to bring what limited skills I have to use. I do, however, want to relate the following events:
- Robbery: Two suspects rob a business and flee into the Avenues. They crash and flee on foot into Memory Grove. K9 searches for about an hour and as they “call” the search I check with them for me to work the scene. It only takes me (and my tracking school partner Dave Daniels) a minute at the crash site to find a track of two people running from the scene. We are able to track them down the side of the valley, discover where one of them had a violent collision with a tree and the ground. Roughly 100 yards past that we discover hats and shirts and other clothing articles matching the description of the robbers clothing hidden in the woods. Minutes later one of the suspects shows up at the local hospital with a broken ankle.
- Beer Run: The report is being written when I pull up to hear the tale of what happened. I start poking around and find some sign where “someone” is leaving the area of the 7-11 running like their life depended on it. I find a bit of sign 50 yards down the road where the same runner crosses a median strip. 50 yards from that I find one very distinct “change of direction” foot plant pointing toward a home. I walk up on the front porch and there in plain view drinking Pabst in a can (Aha –the very type just snagged from the 7-11) is a group of young ruffians.
- Stolen Car/Crash/Foot pursuit: Bloodhound K9 picks up the track and leaves the scene. I get clearance from K9 to work the scene and several hundred yards from the crash I show up just as K9 is discovering the perp and placing him in cuffs. I tracked my way there, whereas they trailed their way there.
- More foot pursuits, “which way did he go?”, “no, that’s not the line of track”, and more “he left the scene” moments than I can possibly recall.
I am just one guy, with no particular talent at this (the class I attended was FULL of folks better at tracking than I), who had 40 hours of premier quality training more than a decade ago. I sincerely believe that this type of training has value. As a guy who has spent the greater part of 25 years in the “blue suit”, out in a marked car, I am telling you that training of this type is WELL worth your time, and your dime.
Officer Richard Chipping, has invested significant amounts of his own time, and wallet into developing this kind of expertise; into becoming one of the subject matter experts who can actually kneel down next to you, like David Scott Donelan did for me years back, and walk you through until you start to see on your own.
I offer this introduction to speak on what I know best; Patrol work. Does this skill have value – yes it does!!