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by Peter Moskos

May 22, 2008

Policing Green

Cops want more money. Citizens want more foot patrol.

We can have both. I call it “Policing Green.” Give cops the gas money for their shift if they agree to patrol without a car for that shift.

The environmental link is mostly just a clever title to sell the idea, but it really would be green and save gas. At its core, though, it’s about policing.

In an informal survey of my police officers students, every one of them would walk foot for their gas money. At least when it's not raining.

Police cars in the city probably go through about 6-8 gallons per shift. That’s $28-$32 right now. And even with giving this to police officers, departments would save money on cars upkeep in general. And as long as it’s the officers’ choice, everybody wins!

Rather than asking what foot patrol does to improve matters (I believe it does, but it's hard to prove), letting cops walk foot would shift the burden to asking what cars do to improve policing (and it's been proven cars don't improve patrol). Simply placing the burden on defending car patrol would be a huge and productive shift in police culture and patrol.

Even better, you would let patrol officers determine the best way to police without cars. From the top down, it would never work. From the ground up, this could be effective.

Here’s the system: at the start of the shift, officers either take the car keys or don’t. Anything else is up to them. They can grab their keys any time they want. But if they do, they don’t get the gas money for the day. They’re welcome to get a ride to their post. But they’re not allowed to team up with another officer in a car and split the gas money. That’s the only rule.

Brilliant or crazy?


Anonymous said...

Sounds good to me, but what do I know? I haven't even read your book yet.

I like your "top down vs. bottom up" point; it's really cool to have someone with experience with police culture give suggestions on how to work with it. It makes me wonder, though; do you think you've got more of a chance to change things as an outside commentator than as a police? I wonder if you'd stayed in how long it would have been before you had a chance of implementing any of your ideas.

Also, I assume you're talking about urban police departments. There must be some density threshold below which this wouldn't work, right?

PCM said...

Thanks for bringing up that last point. I do have an idea that I forgot to put on the post.

Here's my litmus test: if your mail comes from a mailman or mailwoman on foot, police should be on foot. If mail is delivered by truck, foot patrol probably isn't too useful.

Generally police departments don't exactly encourage innovation and independent thinking (though some departments are better than others).

To change things as an insider requires knowing and liking the right people.

As an outsider, it may be even tougher. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

I just came across this AP article saying that some departments are forcing officers to drive less -- and patrol by foot more -- because of high fuel prices. Do you know of any departments that have any kind of incentives for foot patrol, whether financial or otherwise?

PCM said...

Basically, no.

Sometimes an advantage to foot patrol is that it's more 9 to 5. But that's it, as far as I know.

Anonymous said...

Hey, so your saying the little police man may have a way to hurt the brass? like, drive your patrol car as much as possible? or does the little man in the end get stung?