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by Peter Moskos

May 1, 2009

Balto Patrol Short Handed

Peter Hermann reports in the Baltimore Sun.

Top brass always says patrol is the backbone of the police department. They lie. Roughly half of the police department is assigned to the patrol. When you need officers, you take them from patrol. Backbone my ass! What kind of organization knocks out its own vertebrae?

When officers are taken from patrol, of course patrol suffers. Fully staffed patrol would be able to better respond to calls. No doubt. Without enough officers, response time increases and patrol officer simply don't have the time to do the job they could and want to do.

Poaching from patrol is bad in other ways, too. It kills morale. After the department is done poaching from patrol, you get a "temporary manpower shortage." A permanent temporary manpower shortages. That means you can't get a day off. Or days off get canceled. Then officers have to call in sick to reclaim the day off. You can get in serious trouble for that. But you can get in even more serious trouble if you can't take your planned wedding anniversary cruise you've paid for and for which you've had days-off approved for 11 months in advance.

I'm of the belief that car patrol simply doesn't serve much purpose at all. The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment proved it... but didn't change anything. Crime wouldn't go down even with fully staffed car patrol.

Better to get the police out of cars and end the charade of rapid response to every call to 911. The problem is most--not many--most calls to 911 and 311 are bullshit: calls to non-existent addresses, drug dealers reporting a shooting to force an officer to move away, kids playing on phones, and calls that absolutely should have nothing to do with police ("my daughter doesn't want to go to school" or "my boyfriend is putting his feet in my hair").

The majority of what's left is simply not time sensitive.

In the Eastern District, drug calls are a quarter of all calls. Add drug-related calls and you've got about half of the 113,000 calls for service per year. Clearly car patrol hasn't solved the drug problem. Calling 911 about yo-boys slinging on drug corner does not tell the post officer anything he or she doesn't know.

Serious crimes? Assaults by shooting are 0.3% of all calls for service. Same for assault by cutting. Rape calls (most of which do not involve rape) are 0.1% of all calls. Carjacking? 0.04% of all calls. Aggravated assaults? 1.4%

By comparison, kids calling 911 and hanging up is 6% of all calls. False alarms are 8% of all calls. I wrote about it here for the academic journal Law Enforcement Executive Forum. Chapter Five of Cop in the Hood says much the same thing but in a much more interesting way.

It would be better to get rid of 911 or at least the lie that every call for service will be dealt with promptly. As it is now, even for real issues, police normally arrive after the fact and are left to pick up the pieces and write a report. Better to have officers walking or biking the beat able but not required to answer every request for police service. This kind of patrol could actually prevent crime and increase public satisfaction.

Rapid Response should be a division separate from patrol. A few officers in cars could serve as backup and be assigned to those calls in which police really are actually needed right there and then. But these calls are few and far between. And if it's a bullshit call? Then take a number and we'll get to it when we can. The promise of car patrol and the illusion of rapid response is not worth the resources of half the police department.

1 comment:

dave h. said...

Very good ideas, Peter. Keep 'em coming.