Talon Wilkinson: Tactical tracking is a vital tool for all law enforcement officers. With the right approach and attitude, these courses’ observation and tracking skills can be used for much more than the hypothetical multi-day manhunt or ten-mile follow-up on escaped inmates.

About the author

Talon Wilkinson

TTTS Vice President – Instructor

With over 18 years of Tracking Experience and 10+ years as a Tracking Instructor,   As an advisor and tracker along side NPS South East Arizona Group, Department of State EXBS, and US Forestry Service K9 units, Talon has operational tracking experience in Desert, Jungle, and  Dense Forest environments; and has been an instructor with TTTS since the companies inception in 2010.

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Tracker Training Misconceptions in Law Enforcement

The Article

In the past, tracking was a skill set only possessed by those who had received training in the military or was minutely discussed in woodland courses that covered a variety of other primary topics.

Today, visual tracking has grown in popularity in the law enforcement community, especially over the past decade.

It can now be found in a variety of training venues and vendors across the globe.

As the desire to learn to track has increased in the law enforcement community, so have the misconceptions about the process, the skill set, and the benefits trained trackers can offer their agency.

One of the most frustrating expressions we hear as Tracking Instructors from within our own community is “Tracking is Tracking.”

While it is true that the fundamentals of tracking are the same no matter what terrain or environment you are applying them to, the phrase is usually said to dismiss other venues of training.

That line of thought is detrimental to the industry.

As Tracking Instructors, we should encourage our students in the Law Enforcement community to seek as much training as possible, whether it is from our own company or others.

You would never hear a Firearms Instructor or SWAT Instructor say that their course was the only course that officers needed to take to be proficient in that skill, and tracking should be no different.

Basic tracking fundamentals only provide the student with the base knowledge to track.

After a five-day course, the officer should feel confident that tracking works and is real.

In addition, the officers should feel confident that they can track an individual through varying terrains.

Still, the officers should also realize that to become a proficient tracker, they will need as much training as possible in the months and years to come.

Trained trackers on the K9 search team can become an instant force multiplier

Tracking Instructors bring unique experiences and lessons learned to the classroom and field exercises.

Those experiences are as valuable to the officers as the lesson plan itself and further prove that the more training you can expose yourself to, the better you can and will be as a tracker.

Another misconception is that visual tracker training is an attempt to replace the K9 tracking unit at your agency. This is not true.

If your agency has a robot for EOD, do you throw out your bomb tech?

The answer is obvious in that circumstance, and it should be the same regarding Dog and Visual tracking units.

A K9 Officer who also has the chance to attend visual tracking courses can see his success rate with his dog increase substantially.

We have seen K9 handlers who log their successes with their dog improve their finds with their dog by over two hundred percent.

This is an amazing testament to the value visual tracking brings to help confirm that the dog is or is not on track by observing visual tracking indicators along the route.

In other circumstances, the value of being able to continue the follow-up once the dog reaches his burnout stage and can no longer lead the track by deploying tactical tracking TTPs with trained trackers on the K9 search team can become an instant force multiplier.

It offers a seamless transition from K9 to visual tracking, thus helping the officers close the time/distance gap and increase their chances of success.

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Tactical tracking is a vital tool for all law enforcement officers

The biggest misconception about tracking is one of the hardest to defeat; the thought that tactical tracking courses are only for specialized teams.

While the name of the course may be Tactical Mantracking for Law Enforcement, the fact is that the “tactical” style of tracking uses the Rhodesia or Macro method as opposed to the micro or step-by-step method used by many civilian search and rescue operations.

Tactical tracking is a vital tool for all law enforcement officers.

With the right approach and attitude, these courses’ observation and tracking skills can be used for much more than the hypothetical multi-day manhunt or ten-mile follow-up on escaped inmates.

Tracking can and has been utilized by law enforcement on patrol for locating missing children, locating the route used by suspects on B&E’s, and investigating false claims of robbery (noticing the victim’s trackers were the only ones approaching the vehicle whose stereo was “stolen”).

As well as evidence collection to help link a suspect to multiple crimes through footprint/shoe print analysis.

The heightened awareness that tracker training brings to officers who embrace the training and buy into the mindset needed to become a tracker has been recognized by past students worldwide as invaluable.

And when the need arises for a group of trained trackers for that large manhunt, it is nice to have your own team of trained trackers instead of sending a team to training after the fact.

It is important to educate yourself on your options for training

In North Carolina, one of the best tracking teams in the state was formed after a manhunt gone-wrong.

When we met the students on day one of their level one course, they said, “we are here because our Sheriff saw our neighboring county tracking team and decided next time this happened, he didn’t want to have to call them for help.

He wanted us to be the county others called for help when they had a situation.”

That statement hit home for our cadre.

After that team completed three levels of tracker training with our team, we are proud to say they have successfully tracked and found a missing nursing home patient with dementia who was naked and nearly an exposure casualty.

They have tracked fleeing suspects from their own and surrounding counties that flee into the swamps, as well as all of the incidents that tracking has been used that do not make it into the headlines of the local news.

With an increasing portion of the law enforcement community embracing tactical tracking over the past several years, it is important to educate yourself on your options for training.

The experiences of your instructors, the past performance, and AARs from those in your community who have attended the training, and to be sure you are training in as many environments and terrains as possible to form your skill set better.

Tracking through a pine forest and tracking through the jungle of Okinawa, Japan, are two vastly different things.

Whether it is the high desert, the swamps, or the forest, the fundamentals are the same, but the indicators you look for, and the aging factors you rely on will change.

So, get out there and track! Track often, and train as much as possible.

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Photos by Tactical Tracker Training School