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.
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.
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.
"As a foot patrol officer, you'll be
explaining the actions of other police
officers to your neighborhood residents
on a continual basis."
~ Barry M. Baker
Copyright © 2015  Barry M. Baker  
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