To begin studying this topic I’d like to provide a brief definition of a patrol officer. In law enforcement, patrol officers are uniformed police officers assigned to patrol specified geographic areas. They are the officers most commonly encountered by the public. Their duties include responding to calls for service, making arrests, resolving disputes, taking crime reports, and conducting traffic enforcement, and other crime prevention measures. The patrol officer is the first on the scene to arrive. What they do or fail to do at the scene can greatly influence the outcome of an investigation. The patrol officer, as the person daily in the field, is closest to potential crime and oftentimes has probably developed contacts that can provide information that may assist in solving the crime. The general purpose of police patrols whether on foot, bicycle, horseback or motor vehicle is to have a visible presence in the community, maintain public order and a sense of security in the community, build relationships with citizens and business owners, and deter crime especially in trouble spots.
The basic activities of these patrols are divided into four different categories.
Preventive Patrol – By maintaining a presence in a community patrol officers prevent crime from occurring. This usually accounts for about 40% of the officer’s time. Calls For Service – This is when officers are responding to 911 calls for emergency service, or other citizen problems and complaints. This accounts for approx. 25% of the officer’s time
Administrative Duties – This is the general paperwork of the job, and takes up about 20% of the officer’s time Officer initiated activities – These are incidents in which the patrol officer initiates contact with citizens such as making traffic stops, checking on something suspicious, questioning citizens etc. This usually accounts for about 15% of patrol time.
These percentages are national averages and may vary widely among police departments.
The question is how effective are these police patrols? Well it seems to all depend on what report you read. While researching this topic I found many departmental reports that would suggest that their efforts helped reduce crime substantially in targeted areas while other reports suggest that police patrols are not fully effective in controlling criminal victimizations, and that police patrols do not reduce the actual amount of crimes that occur.
Some of the police department studies I read had patrol officers focusing on just one crime, such as guns, drug, speeders, impaired drivers, etc. The results of these reports were generally favorable and showed a reduction, sometimes substantial, in one particular area.
An example of this was with the Kansas City Police Department. A study was conducted to examine the effectiveness of the Kansas City PD Gun Experiment, in which additional police patrols focused on gun detection. Between July 1992 and January 1993, police
patrols were increased in gun-crime “hot spots,” and police officers assigned to the target area concentrated exclusively on gun detection through proactive directed patrol. Data for the same period was gathered for a comparison area in which no changes were made in the number or duties of patrol officers. In the target region, police seized 65 percent more guns from July through December 1992 than in the first six months of 1992. In contrast, gun seizures by police in the comparison area declined slightly in the second half of 1992. In the target area, gun crimes decreased significantly in the latter part of the year, whereas they increased slightly in the comparison area.
These findings indicate that a police department can implement a program through increased police patrols to boost seizures of illegally carried guns in high gun-crime areas. Other police departments reported success with similar programs, and the reports were always backed up with data and statistics that enable one to draw a logical conclusion.
To the contrary, some of the reports I found that would suggest general police patrols may not be that effective don’t seem to have credible data attached to them leaving room for ambiguity. Law enforcement administrators have traditionally relied on three (3) indicators to measure agency effectiveness and to determine the amount of funding for particular operational programs such as increased police patrols.
First, crime statistics always have played an important role in providing direction to police agencies. But, by relying on crime statistics as conclusive evidence that specific programs or philosophies are achieving their anticipated results, observers often fail to ensure that these statistics accurately reflect what they claim to measure. For example, some politicians often view decreases in crime as indicators of successful programmatic responses to funding priorities, and although the converse is often used as justification for additional funding, some long-range studies suggest that police agencies have little control over increases and decreases in crime. This is so, researchers believe, because the police have no control over the sociological conditions that are blamed for fueling the growth of crime.
As we learned from the textbook “Criminal Justice In Action” Social Process Theories state that the major influence on any individual is not society in general, but the interactions that dominate everyday life, hence the learning and labeling theories. For this reason, the use of crime statistics as an evaluator of program success or as an indicator of money well spent may inherently be inadequate. Second, measuring the level of satisfaction with the police has been an organizational concern for decades and usually is accomplished through surveys, personal interviews, and by annually calculating the numbers of sustained internal complaints. Although these data-capturing mechanisms contain inherent biases and may be of little value when used as explanations of crime or other antisocial behavior, police organizations continue to rely on them as valid measures of agency effectiveness. This is the case even though, from a historical point of view, citizen attitudes towards the police have not been subject to change as a result of the level of patrols, nor are attitudes towards the police appreciably affected after police-citizen encounters.
In other words, there is little that can be done, more than temporarily, the existing proclivity for individual satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the police or police patrols. Third and last, the popularity of crime prevention as an indicator of success among police program managers is easy to understand. To refute the effects of prevention strategies would require a precise measurement of crime that did not occur. Moreover, it would be reasonable to expect that the level of criminal activity in a given community would be equal with the attention paid to it by law enforcement. To the extent that communities can apply an ever-increasing proportion of shrinking government resources to a relatively small group of recipients, the level of satisfaction can be expected to remain favorable. Similarly, the use of crime prevention statistics also will remain popular as long as municipal governments continue to provide funding on the basis of this measurement.
The missing ingredient within the current community-based police patrol paradigm seems to be the lack of attention to traditional law enforcement responsibilities. Little has been written, for example, about using confidential informants, stakeouts, intelligence-gathering and aggressive vehicle stops in conjunction, with flexible organizational structures to respond to criminal activity. Although continuously updated information regarding crime trends and patterns is vital to any such attempt, problem solving should not be confined to youth crime or specific neighborhood dysfunctions. Community policing and problem-oriented policing can be successful in a larger context involving every member of the organization.
Although the art of policing including police patrols has changed a great deal over the last several decades, and continues to change especially with regard to personnel deployment strategies and new technologies, relatively little attention has been paid to the way in which administrators deal with personnel or define productivity within a structured, environment. A management philosophy that sets parameters but encourages solutions by the “rank-and-file” is infinitely more desirable than a system that discourages, although unintentionally, the innovative and creative worker. Together with effective measures that more accurately validate police successes, a new
management philosophy can emerge.
The application of community policing programs within this structure, however, is best accomplished through aggressive enforcement, a “case-to-fruition mentality”, the use of the flexible organizational structure concept, and common sense. The tendency to apply law enforcement resources exclusively to specific communities to the exclusion of others also should be avoided in favor of encouraging individual officers to apply the resources available to them on every call for service. In an integrated patrol approach, shift commanders assume a difficult, but ultimately integral, role. They must know their employees, encourage their employees’ activities, measure the results fairly, provide guidance and support, and act to maximize the effectiveness of the team. By combining aggressive enforcement with a comprehensive community-based orientation, law enforcement agencies can unleash officers’ full creative power to combat crime.
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