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by Peter Moskos

April 5, 2008

I [heart] foot patrol

The smart folks at Marginal Revolution mentioned my book again. There's nothing I like talking about more than foot patrol.

The following are taken mostly from a comment I wrote to this post.
The Kansas City Preventative Patrol experiment is the most amazingly ignored police study ever. For police and crime prevention, it’s one of the few scientific studies ever (meaning there was actually a control group). It showed that a post with no “randomly patrolling” cars has no more crime than a post with twice as many cars. Cars don’t matter. Cops only need to be in cars to backup other police officers. Almost everything else could be done by foot and bike.

And yet the Kansas City study changed nothing. It’s ignored because police officers like cars and the police department is tied to radio dispatch. Culturally, it’s almost impossible to get police out of cars. Policing on foot is hard work. It’s usually punishment. So even cops who liked foot patrol, like me, didn’t want to do it.

In cars you can stay dry and warm (or cool) and listen to the radio. You can also more easily avoid crazy and stinky people that want to talk to you. Why do you think police hang out in cars in the back of remote parking lots?

People don’t feel safer with more police cars driving around (or sitting in parking lots) Putting more cops on foot *does* make people safer. See the Newark Foot Patrol Experiment (Police Foundation 1981) and common sense. It’s very debatable if foot patrol reduces crime. I think it does. But I may be wrong. But if people want more foot patrol (and they do), why not give it to them?

When patrol cars first hit the street, cars were supposed to save money (and oh yeah, eliminate crime). That didn’t happen. More foot patrol is not a matter of needing resources; it’s a matter of priorities and will. It’s not the citizens or the politicians who want car patrol, it’s the police.

My idea to get police officers out of cars is to give patrol officers, if they patrol on foot, the gas money they saved. Police model Crown Vics go through about 3/4 of a gas tank per shift. Cops don’t want to walk the beat, but $30 per shift could change that.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with your enthusiasm for foot patrol. I work as a healthcare security officer at a large regional hospital in Central Illinois, so I basically make my living on my feet. My level of awareness is at its peak while on foot, and it is obviously easier to make connections with your community when you can look people in the eye (even when they are averting their gaze). When I'm assigned to motorized patrol, I end up sitting in parking lots too much, as you have mentioned. I don't feel terribly productive when I'm doing "stationary patrol," so I look for ways to be creative.
Foot patrol is particularly well suited to campus settings like ours, but I think you're correct that it could be effective in most urban and suburban settings (in rural settings, not so much). I read your study on the ineffectiveness of 911, and I found it to be very informative. Speaking as a child of 1980s and 1990s,the Public Enemy intro was also a nice touch. In your book, do you go into more detail about the ways in which a department might deploy a mixed group of foot patrol officers and rapid response units?

PCM said...

I don't get into foot patrol much at all in my book (it's a short book and that isn't really the theme). But I do have my ideas... Maybe the next book?

There needs to be change in police culture to bring back foot patrol. It would be a major change, but it wouldn't be hard. My idea is to put cops in cars right out of the academy (for backup and so they learn the names of streets). Then *promote* cops to foot patrol. Give them a raise and maybe a non-rank title like “patrol officer extraordinaire.” Have the foot officers answer calls for service.

Tell people who call for police that the officer will be there within an hour. Or at 3pm. Whatever the truth is. People don’t mind waiting for police as long as police come when you say they will. That doesn’t happen with 911. It really is a joke.

I'm glad you liked the Public Enemy quote (we are obviously of the same generation). I had to cut it from the book for copyright reasons. It would have cost a few grand. Well, it's not like Chuck D ever sampled from others... He's actually spoken out against absurd copyright laws. But I guess he never convinced the people who sell the rights to his song.

Anonymous said...

Strong ideas so far Peter. You're correct that it will require a culture change, but if you take your ideas to the people--who tend to have a very favorable impression of foot patrol--you will probably win half of the battle.