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Posted on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 5:56 a.m.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way he walks

By Rich Kinsey

I would be a relatively easy person to follow. I am a rather large man, and I walk with a “duck” walk that looks like my legs want to head off in separate directions. I have a clear conscience and nothing to hide. Therefore I seldom look behind me. Have you ever taken the time, while “people watching,” to notice how people walk?


Surveillance officers learn pretty quickly to distinguish how people walk.

If you had spent the thousands of hours that a surveillance officer spends watching people, you would notice that people have their own individual styles when walking. When surveillance officers are watching a “target,” they quickly learn a person’s habits, haunts and individual gait.

That gait can identify a target from a long distance away, even if the target is walking away from the observer. It can identify a target who changes his outer garments to trick those following, because the clothes may change but your walk is part of you.

One of the elements of a person’s gait is the speed at which he walks. Does the person walk quickly, deliberately, slowly or with a limp?

Walking speed is often dependent on the age, physical abilities, current level of intoxication, the weather, mood or how busy someone is. Busy people with schedules to keep do not mess around. They walk deliberately and with purpose, because they have places to go, people to meet and things to do.

Street criminals on the other had rarely wake to an alarm clock and do not have schedules to keep — except perhaps making it into the parole office at least on the same day as the scheduled appointment. They tend to have what I call a “going nowhere walk.”

This walk is usually a slow deliberate saunter that shows no purpose other than to just be out on the street. This walk’s slower cousin is the druggie or drunk “shuffle” which is also slow and involves lifting one’s feet as little as humanly possible or dragging one's feet instead.

A good street cop will notice the “going nowhere walk,” especially when small groups are all walking at this same slow speed. Groups walking like this are just looking for trouble or mischief or they are tourists taking in the sights. A good street cop can figure out the difference pretty quickly based on the behavior of the group.

I experienced both once in New York in Time Square in the late 1980s at high noon one summer day. I was looking mighty touristy snapping pictures and looking like a hayseed muttering, "Gol-ly …. them buildings sure are tall. Lemme just snap a few pitchers fer the fellers back home, they ain't gonna believe this!"

I looked up ahead on the sidewalk at a group of “yoots” as Joe Pesci would say, who were lollygagging slowly down the street when one points me out to another who nods but does not laugh. I swear I could read their minds. I knew they were going to do a “bump and run,” and try to grab at least my camera.

I ducked in a store, took my time, stuffed my camera in my front pants pocket, my wallet in the other front pocket and pulled out my shirttails to hide the bulges.

When I walked out several minutes later, the group had stopped across the street but on the path I had been walking. They were all watching me as I walked toward them and believe me my heart was going pitter-patter. I squared my shoulders, kept my head up and walked toward them—no longer the tourist and looking much more determined and cop-ish now with no camera in my hand.

I was surprised that I walked past the group without any jostling or taunts except one guy said, “SUCKER” as I passed.

When I visited NYPD in 2002, my police handler asked if I had ever been to New York before. I told him that I had in the 1980s and he laughed and said, “Oh I’m sorry were you the victim of a crime?” I told him I was not, but retold the story about the youths that pointed me out at noon in Time Square. The NYPD detective nodded his head, smiled and told me my hunch was right and the bump-and-run thieves were pretty prevalent back then.

The story illustrates another characteristic of a person’s walk. What kind of bearing does a person possess when walking. Is a person confident, cocky, bold and no nonsense or timid, frightened and unsure? Which person walking would you expect to be more likely to be a victim of crime? Think like a predator. The weakest of the herd is what the criminal predator will attack first.

Just so you know, few people walk perfectly. Some are “duck” walkers like me, some are “pigeon toed”—incidentally, I have noticed many athletic people and fast runners are slightly pigeon toed. Some walk with a stiff “Harley” limp. Some are bowlegged and some are knock-kneed. Some saunter as if “too cool for school.”

Some have a bounce in their step, while some walk flatfooted and look kind of tired. Some people are just naturally graceful and some appear clumsy. Some appear jittery and dart. Others appear confident and genuine.

Posture of a person’s walk can also be a good identifier. Is the person slumped or ramrod straight with the chest puffed out? Does his head and body list to one side or the other? Do their arms swing free or are they pinned at their side like they have a gun or something tucked under their arm?

Some burglars I have followed varied their speed walking and appeared stealthy. One off-campus student housing area burglar liked to walk backward and stopped to sit on other people’s porches and just looked up and down the street, trying to spot surveillance. A great “tell” on a burglar is when they stop in front of a house and look up and down the street then start up driveway or walkway. When they do this, they are about to strike.

However you may walk, get out and do it because it is great exercise. Take a cellphone with you and be another set of eyes and ears for your neighbors and for the police. Avoid walking alone at night and keep your head on a swivel, always maintaining an awareness of your surroundings. Next time you are waiting and watching people — notice their gait.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for



Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 10:52 a.m.

Oh.....horrible article.

Sandy Castle

Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 1:43 a.m.

Loved the article AND the typical troll comments never fail to amuse. Keep up the good work ;o)

Craig Lounsbury

Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 4:27 p.m.

when I see someone carrying a camera with their shirt tucked in suddenly duck in to a store then come out a few minutes later without a camera and their shirt pulled out i assume they met their fence to sell a hot camera. And student of human behavior that i am I'm never wrong.....well hardly ever.


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 11:19 a.m.

I can always tell when some one is a police officer or military. They walk with a confidence that others do not. I'm usually spot on.


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 1:44 a.m.

The unique "she" walks are more interesting to me.

Pretty Gritty

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 9:44 p.m.

WOW. I thought the frugal Friday was bad. This is a whole new low.

Linda Peck

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 9:01 p.m.

Rich, great one as usual. Have you ever heard of the Haldol shuffle? It is a peculiar gait that can be seen on some people on this medication. I thought of that when you mentioned a drugged type of walk.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 6:50 p.m.

So what about a person in a wheelchair Rich, does the way they roll tell you anything too?

An Arborigine

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 6:13 p.m.

Isn't judging a book by its cover a type of profiling?

John of Saline

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 5:24 p.m.

I often look behind me. It's a reflex born from walking on U-M's campus and knowing that an insane cyclist might be bearing down on you from behind. I was hit four times, with zero apologies. The characteristic "click-click-click" of a coasting bike behind me makes me freeze in place.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 5:17 p.m.

This is profiling, period. There are plenty of people that may be relaxing with "nowhere to go" but they are walking slowly or lounging around a certain area because they have a break or window of time to just do so. That doesn't make them potential criminals. There are "yoots" that congregate and hang out and that doesn't mean they are ready to steal from you. It's sad that so many think this is a great article that says if you are not walking with a purpose, you are up to no good or if you look behind you when you are walking, you are potentially running from something. This is why people are harassed by law enforcement, because they are taught these things. I recall as a student at UM driving down main at 2am going to the all-night Meijer's and a police cruiser drove near, then past me, turned at Scio Church and came back behind me to pull me over. The reason was "I fit the profile of a burglar" he continued to ask me why I was out at night. There is a reason Meijer's is open all night, so that people can shop, that's what I was going to do. Profiling whether young or old, race or whatever is never good. It devalues the person.

Michigan Reader

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 9:50 p.m.

Sounds like it wasn't accurate in your case either. Profiling wouldn't be bad if the profiled characteristics accurately match up with the expected characteristics. (If there was a high correlation.) But they don't; profiling sounds like nothing more than stereotyping.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 5:04 p.m.

Great article. The comments bring out the point that profiling by whatever means is important for police work, but police need to be aware of their own prejudices & assumptions.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 4:50 p.m.

This will come in very handy, since a clip of the column is pretty much all you need to fully exercise your stand-your-ground and open-carry rights. Maybe a stapler, in case it's windy and you need to attach it securely somewhere, like a deer tag.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 4:45 p.m.

Excellent. Thanks, Rich, you've just added to what I always practice when out and about in public. Reading walks is just part of reading body language. And it's scientifically proven TO BE a language. I will agree with one of the several "criticisms" in the comments section: "seldom look behind me" is another potential victim trait. "Seldom look behind me" can and does become "seldom look around" which brings on tunnel vision and mental obliviousness. Also, "seldom look behind me" fails in one specific kind of potentially dangerous situation: When you've already spotted the guy who breaks from a group as you pass and falls in behind you.


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 11:22 a.m.

Isn't the general rule of thumb to be aware of your surroundings? Man or Woman?

Keith Hafner

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 4:34 p.m.

In determining who to single out as a target, bullies and bad guys are experts at reading body language signals: posture, voice projection, the way that eye contact is made or not made...

Boo Radley

Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 12:12 p.m.

If you look like prey ... you will be eaten.

Laurie Barrett

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:54 p.m.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they evaluate other people.


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 11:05 a.m.

You can tell a lot MORE by how WELL they evaluate other people. :-)


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:32 p.m.

Another good column, Rich! Write. The. Book. Please!!!!


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

Won't be long before computers can do all the work for you.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

Here's an infographic that should explain part of why the above article describes doing a Bad Job:


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 1:17 a.m.

Not much of a reader, are you.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 8:36 p.m.

LOL. 28,359 stops and frisks by the NYPD to check out a suspicion and 6,806 ended up being arrested! It would appear that the NYPD is doing a pretty good job. That's a .240 batting average and good enough for the big league. It isn't race, but it probably is profiling in a broader sense.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

Reminds me of my view on politicians. Hot air is cheap, keep your view on what the person actually does.

John of Saline

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

Following up on Dog Guy's comment:

ypsi to go

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.

How do you tell the difference between a neighborhood watch volunteer, who has his head on a swivel to maintain awareness of his surroundings and pins his hands to his pockets to check his cellphone, from a burglar, who looks up and down the street trying to spot surveillance and pins his hands to his sides like he has a gun or something (beverage, candy) under his arm? Is it the same way I knew the burglar and watch volunteer in my question were men? If I ever look behind me while I am walking, should I repent my sins?


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 8:21 p.m.

You can always wait until the burglar jumps you from out of the bushes and starts to bash your head into the concrete sidewalk. That cinches it. Of course you don't know the burglar is a man, but if you spend too much time looking for women, you're not too good at your neighborhood watch job.

Jack Gladney

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 7:59 p.m.

That depends. Does the buglar have Skittles and Arizona Watermelon or Reeses Pieces and Diet Coke on him? A cop could tell you his intent. (I don't know if you can discuss sizzyrup here or not)

Tom Joad

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:05 p.m.

Perhaps he needs to read Thoreau's essay on Walking before offering opinions on circumambulators "I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering" ~H.D. Thoreau

Dog Guy

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:47 p.m.

With wicked humor, Kinsey is out to make us so conscious of our gaits that we trip on our own heels.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

A good friend of mine likes to tell a story about a job he got when he was young (maybe his first job out of college). The manager asked him to walk across the shop and get something and bring it to another person. He did it as he usually would with purpose and was hired on the spot.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:24 p.m.

Sounds like gait profiling to me. I bet someone on council will try and pass an ordinance that makes it illegal for cops to watch people walking.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

Probably not, they couldn't even vote to establish guidelines for video or drone surveillance.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:22 p.m.

This just sounds like a whole lot of profiling. I can guess which groups are often identified as the "going nowhere" walkers as opposed to a group of tourists. Also, this is the epitome of male privilege: "I have a clear conscience and nothing to hide. Therefore I seldom look behind me."


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 8:17 p.m.

Actually, there's nothing wrong with me profiling my surroundings. I have my own method of identifying bad guys and it works for me. Until of course the Department of Thought Police is made a government agency.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 6:05 p.m.

"I have a clear conscience and nothing to hide. Therefore I seldom look behind me." "male privilege"?? What on earth are you talking about? I don't believe that concept is gender-specific.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 5:08 p.m.

The author says "I have a clear conscience and nothing to hide. Therefore I seldom look behind me," and then proceeds to tell us that we should "keep [our] head on a swivel." So the police would like us to be more safe and aware, but be warned that if they see you doing that they will consider you suspicious, up to no good, and having something to hide. Great.

Boo Radley

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 4:06 p.m.

Another term for profiling is "good police work".


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

"Oh - and I carry a gun".


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 2:27 p.m.

Thank you! That bothered me too.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

When I am driving and I see a group of yoots slowly meandering across a busy street without bothering to cross at an intersection I now know they are up to no good. Can I call the cops?


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:29 p.m.

Let Us Not Be Silly.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 12:36 p.m.

I'm reminded of the movie "The Usual Suspects". Kevin Spacey's character misdirects the good & bad guys almost solely by body language. I love the ending where he changes his gait from halting & unsure to crisp & confident.

Jack Gladney

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 7:49 p.m.

What!?! Roger Kint was Keyser Söze?! Thanks for the spoiler alert. Next you'll be telling us that Rosebud was just little Charlie Kane's sled or something. ;)

Homeland Conspiracy

Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 12:15 p.m.

Cops...everyone's a criminal


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

I'm interested in what Mr. Kinsey thinks of individuals who insist on walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk, or perhaps those who enjoy having conversations in the middle of a sidewalk while stopped. I'm also interested in learning about what Mr. Kinsey thinks about group walking dynamics - as in, why some people simply can't seem to break away from a four-abreast walking formation to make room for even a single individual walking the opposite direction on the sidewalk.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:41 p.m.

None of your points have anything to do with telling something about person from their walk. But you can already assume those characteristics show inconsiderate people.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:32 p.m.

Thumbs up, Pizzicato! As a reminder, if you are required to walk in the street due to no sidewalks, you should be opposing traffic, (if I correctly remember my kindergarten teacher from many decades ago) Bicycles flow with traffic except Ann Arbor where they rule the road and can consider themselves either a pedestrian or bicycle at will. (minor sarcasm)


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

@Billy: When in doubt, stay to the right. That rule of thumb works quite well in the Western hemisphere.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

Wrong side of the sidewalk? Um....there's a correct side?


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 11:30 a.m.

Street Cops know the streets. This article insults my intelligence.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 8:12 p.m.

This article isn't about cops. It's about being aware of your surroundings to be safe.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 11:14 a.m.

Nice story !


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 10:52 a.m.

NYPD should have had Rich testify as an expert witness at their stop and frisk trial....


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 10:34 a.m.

What a great column--I love reading these pieces by Rich Kinsey and always learn something new. He seriously should write a book!


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

Reason, I've been nagging, um, encouraging Rich to do exactly that......glad I'm not the only one who thinks this is a good idea!!!


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 10:19 a.m.

I would hope that a surveillance officer would use something a little more sophisticated than all of this. And, while it may seem pretty innocuous and innocent, taking these body-language dynamics too seriously when sizing up a potential lawbreaker is profoundly dangerous for people like me who have Asperger Syndrome, for we misconvey like nobody's business. If this type of thing becomes standard curriculum for fledgling law officers, I fear we Aspies may as well just go and turn ourselves in!


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 4:12 p.m.

rutrow, Ann Arbor prides itself on on being tolerant and favoring diversity. Yet three of the three people on autistic spectrum whom I happen to know have been harassed by police, two quite seriously. They do it with tacit approval and encouragement of the general public, who will never own up to their own complicity. You are right to be wary.


Fri, Aug 16, 2013 : 11:59 a.m.

This minus-21 tells me that Americans--as I've always suspected--have a sort of mini-fantasy of imprisoning each and every eccentric or "weird" person they can. Makes me think I'd better leave the United States in quick fashion before it's too late.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 6:13 p.m.

"taking these body-language dynamics too seriously when sizing up a potential lawbreaker is profoundly dangerous for people like me who have Asperger Syndrome". Yes, it is.


Thu, Aug 15, 2013 : 11:19 a.m.

"...a little more sophisticated than all of this.." The NSA books their satellite surveillance photography months in that's out.