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Without any doubt... foot patrol is the most
effective form of preventative or pro-active
- 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.
When and Where is Foot Patrol Most
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
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
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
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'
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
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