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
Why is Foot Patrol the Ultimate Form of
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
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'
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
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
Without any doubt... foot patrol is the most
effective form of preventative or pro-active police
- 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
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 © 2019 Barry M. Baker