Random Preventive Police Patrol

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Random Preventive Police Patrol


Patrol remains the backbone of police operations. It consumes most of the resources of police agencies. On patrol, a police officer makes regular circuits or passes through a specific area called a beat. Officers sometimes patrol on foot but usually ride in cars. The main advantage of car patrol over foot patrol is increased efficiency of coverage. A disadvantage of car patrol is that it reduces police contacts with citizens. Studies of foot patrol indicate that these patrols are costly and do not reduce crime. They do, however, make citizens less fearful of crime and improve citizen attitudes toward the police. Patrol has three parts: answering calls, maintaining a police presence to deter crime, and probing suspicious circumstances (Homel, pp .13). Of these, the second, preventive patrol is the most controversial. A presumed advantage of patrol is that police cars cruising randomly through city streets supposedly create the feeling that the police are everywhere.

Proactive policing

While the mere presence of police in an area may not deter crime, aggressive patrol may make a difference. Proactive police operations focus on the concentration of crime in certain offenders, places, and victims. Proactive operations include using decoys, going undercover, raiding, relying on informants, stopping and frisking suspects, shadowing repeat offenders, policing repeat-complaint locations, and saturating an area with police to maintain order (Haskell, pp. 49).

Because crime is not evenly distributed throughout a community, it stands to reason that some places need more patrol than others. The tradition of giving each neighborhood an equal amount of patrol wastes police resources. A smarter use of resources would concentrate patrol on high-crime times and places. The Minneapolis 911 study, for example, centered around hot spots. This study discovered that a small number of locations in Minneapolis accounted for a disproportionate number of the calls for police service. Brief periods of intensive patrolling reduced or displaced robberies and other offenses in high-crime areas.

In another proactive strategy, aggressive field interrogation, the police check out suspicious persons and places. In the San Diego Field Interrogation Study, officers frequently stopped and asked people what they were doing. This strategy led to large drops in robbery, burglary, theft, auto theft, assault, sex crimes, malicious mischief, and disturbances.

In undercover police operations, still another proactive strategy, the police use covert means to identify criminal activity while it is happening. In New York City, the Street Crimes Unit (SCU) of the New York ...