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When and Where is Foot Patrol Most Effective?
It's all about crime numbers and population density, so an urban environment experiencing a high rate of crimes against
persons and property is obviously the first choice for effective foot patrol.
There was a time when every urban setting in the country was patrolled by foot officers with just a few motorized officers
to support the foot officers with back-up and prisoner transport. The foot officers, in those days, didn't even have radio
communication. Times and circumstances change, and there came a time when foot patrol officers neared extinction in
most urban population centers.
When I started my police career in 1971, Baltimore had become a fully motorized police department. The department
was well manned and equipped, and the response time to any call for anything anywhere was under two minutes once the
motorized officer received the call via radio. Baltimore, however, did maintain a number of foot posts/beats in
commercial areas of the city. Additionally, Federal Grant money was devoted to the maintenance of a number of foot
posts in high crime residential areas. During the first seven years of my career, I was a foot officer on three of those
residential posts in East Baltimore where I was assigned for several years to each post.
While Baltimore's transition to a fully motorized police department was efficient, well implemented and maintained,
those foot posts proved their value throughout their existence. The pin maps told the story by the number of pins
denoting the occurrence of Part I crimes, homicide, robbery, theft, etc during the days and hours those foot posts were
manned. Of course, the absence of crime was no surprise to anyone since everyone already knew the effectiveness of
well supervised foot patrol.
Who Wants to be a Foot Patrol Officer?
Nobody. Well, perhaps that's an exaggeration, but it's not too far off. When you become a police officer, you'll want to
get a police car, because you've been conditioned to view police officers with police cars. New police officers like the idea
of riding around in police cars with red and blue lights and sirens. I wasn't any different, and I was disappointed when I
didn't get that car right out of the police academy.
It didn't take me long, however, to realize what a good deal I had with a foot patrol assignment. I wasn't burdened with
being assigned calls for service. I could handle any call I wanted to handle, and I'd often take calls from others when I
knew the incidents were interesting and worthy of additional investigation. East Baltimore was a veritable laboratory for
criminal investigation, and the foot patrol assignments afforded me the time to investigate and solve all type of crimes. I
didn't have to spend seven years on those foot post assignments, but I was having the time of my life and learning so
much along the way.
Why is Foot Patrol the Ultimate Form of Community Policing?
When you become a police officer, you'll observe, or be involved in, all kinds of schemes labeled as Community Policing.
I call them schemes, because that's simply what they are. Some may have foot patrol as an element, but any foot patrol
is usually sporadic and poorly supervised with little to no emphasis placed on actual law enforcement activities. What a
lot of community policing advocates forget is that a police officer is first a law enforcer, and everything else comes
afterward. When the community policing experts get together to form their latest scheme, law enforcement is usually
viewed as just an unavoidable annoyance.
When a police officer is assigned to a foot post on a continuous and long lasting basis, real community policing can be
realized. As a foot officer, you'll be up close and personal with every element of the community, and you'll soon become
a walking encyclopedia of who's who in the neighborhood.
What are the Benefits of Foot Patrol for the Police Officer?
There's nothing better than a foot patrol assignment for a new police officer. You'll be alone and out in the open without
the protective shell of that police car. The lack of means for a quick get-a-way will prevent you from developing a
hit-and-run mentality that the mobility of the police car engenders in many police officers.
Just imagine yourself as a foot officer in the midst of a neighborhood dispute that's developed into a street disturbance.
It's gone a little beyond your ability to control, and you call for help. Police cars roll into the block, and the disturbance
is quickly abated by the mere presence of the additional police officers. While the response alone did the trick, a couple
of the officers can't resist making comments to some of the parties in dispute that would have better been left as
thoughts. The back-up officers get back into their cars, and they roll out leaving you to abate the new anger created by
the officers' comments.
It's not a big deal. As a foot patrol officer, you'll be explaining the actions of other police officers to your neighborhood
residents on a continual basis. Most of the complaints will be about how a police officer talked to the person and how the
person perceived the communication, i.e., rude, sarcastic, indifferent, etc. Your availability and willingness to listen and
explain will, in almost every instance, take the sting out of the person's embarrassment and further solidify your image
as a fair and impartial arbiter.
If Foot Patrol is so Effective, Why isn't it Implemented on a Large Scale?
Cost is always cited as the major impediment to putting police officers on foot patrol, and it is a valid reason. However,
many police departments, particularly larger ones, spend a lot of money and expend a lot manpower on the new idea of
the moment. Let's face it. Foot patrol is a tried and true form of policing; however, it's "old school," and it doesn't fit
into the new police culture of hyper-innovation.
Without any doubt... foot patrol is the most effective form of preventative or pro-active police patrol.
- The uniformed foot patrol officer is both highly visible as well as invisible.
- The uniformed foot patrol officer is the most effective response to any discussion about community policing.