What’s the Likelihood of Evading a Manhunt?

Police officers secure a blockade during a manhunt for former Los Angeles Police Department officer Christopher Dorner on Feb. 12, 2013, in Yucaipa, California.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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Answer by Justin Freeman, public safety at Missouri State University; former pastor and police officer:

This almost entirely depends on what you did to prompt it.

If you’re spotted spray painting a wall, you probably won’t be extensively chased. Maybe another unit in the area will look for you, probably a foot pursuit by the primary officer. The agency probably isn’t going to set up a multiunit perimeter for you, though.

If you just committed a terrorist act of any proportion, though, you will be found. The manhunts of Christopher Dorner and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have shown that, given sufficient threat to public safety, authorities will stop at almost nothing to apprehend someone. They will spare no effort or expense if you make yourself enough of a target.

As for evasion, I’m afraid you’re on your own. I’ve chased too many people as a police officer to tactically aid or abet anyone here.

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Answer by Jon Mixon:

Exceptionally high.

Most initial manhunts don’t turn up the person who authorities are seeking, and they are forced to wait until the suspect in question makes a mistake and is arrested or turns himself in.

While I certainly respect Justin Freeman’s interest in not providing tactical details of how evade the police, I’m of the school where information isn’t the issue—it’s how you use it. Also, there may be situations where you are evading a manhunt and you are not guilty. In many countries being caught could mean your death, making evasion a necessity.

Having said all of that I can attempt to map out an escape or evasion plan using Chicago (a city that I know intimately) as the location:

Chicago has almost 3 million people within its city limits. It has 13,500 sworn officers and police employees. It also has the major regional headquarters of all of U.S. federal law enforcement agencies, and it has many state-level enforcement officers, given its position as Illinois’ largest city. Finally, it is the home of the current U.S. president, so it can be assumed that it has an increased security profile as a result.

The authorities aren’t psychic. Unless they are actively tracking you as a suspect for other criminal activities or they receive a tip, they won’t have any idea that you are going to commit a crime or that you have committed one until a crime is reported—or until after they have discovered that a crime has occurred. That means the time from the beginning of a manhunt runs anywhere from instantly to multiple of years after the crime has occurred.

Assuming that a manhunt starts immediately, the police will usually only have a rudimentary idea of who you are and where you might go. As time passes, their knowledge will increase. But in the beginning they’ll have a vague description of your appearance, perhaps a driver’s license photo (which may have never been updated), the type of vehicle you are driving, and a few potential destinations of where you might be going.

The key to evasion will be your knowledge of the area, your staying away from areas where there is usually a heavy law enforcement presence (most lower-income areas and areas where wealthy live), your changing the clothing you were wearing when you committed your offense (or alleged offense), your monitoring the news and emergency frequencies (a handheld scanner is always useful), and your moving very infrequently after it has become clear that there is a manhunt going on for you.

Obviously not going to your home, your friends’ homes, or family’s home should be the first order of business. Most people are lazy or scared (or both), and the police know this. Those are among the first places that they will look, meaning those are the first places to avoid. If you have to stay within Chicago city limits, I would advise that you find a place that is largely empty, such as an older warehouse or a parking structure, or an abandoned house or business (enter it through the roof or through the back).

Chicago has 24 collar suburbs. If for some reason you are unable to find a location within the city to hide, then you have 24 suburbs to chose from. If you avoid low-budget motels, homeless shelters, and the homes of people who the authorities know that you know, you are unlikely to be easily discovered.

If you are forced to move around outside, save it for times when the authorities are changing shifts. These are usually early in the morning, early in the afternoon, and late at night. If you have to move, walk like you have a purpose and you are familiar with the area. Don’t look over your shoulder too often, and don’t act nervous.

Always carry cash on you. While many people are moving toward a cashless society, using your credit or debit card will allow you to be tracked. If you don’t have any cash at all, then you may need to risk using your debit card for an ATM withdrawal. If you do this, do so in a grocery or big-box store so if there’s a problem you can disappear into the store or escape out the rear of the building. If the withdrawal is slowed or halted for any reason, simply abandon the effort and find another method to obtain cash.

Ditch your cellphone. It doesn’t matter if it’s the latest Galaxy or iPhone model, chuck it away. Better: Put the phone in or on a vehicle heading away from the direction that you are going. If you see a pickup truck with an open bed, turn off the phone’s ringer and casually drop it in there.

Travel a long way away from where you are being sought. Despite all the hoopla about nationwide manhunts, these are both rare and expensive. With the exception of serial killers, terror suspects, and perhaps the odd organized crime member, they are rarely undertaken. The farther you get from Chicago, the less likely that you are to be discovered.

To be blunt, few crimes are worth evading capture. Unless you are facing decades in prison or the death penalty, evading the authorities will likely ruin any chance that you may have to negotiate a shorter prison term or even a suspended sentence. You might even be acquitted at trial. It’s probably better to surrender yourself, speak only with an attorney, and wait to see what happens next.

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