Walking the beat has many benefits.
When starting a foot patrol, one of the first things an officer will notice is how much they can hear. Whether a faint yell or the noise of a car driving from a street over, an officer’s ears can pick up much more than from inside the closed confines of a patrol car, even with the windows down.
Exiting a cruiser and walking a beat essentially gives the officer “surround sound” while patrolling. The buzz of a neighborhood can be better absorbed when you can actually hear it. But these benefits of foot patrol expand beyond increased audio perception. They can provide opportunities for enhanced community policing connections, increased departmental intelligence, as well as health and fitness benefits for the officers on patrol.
Successful community policing involves a symbiotic relationship with the officers and those they serve in making a neighborhood a safe place to live and thrive. It is a “we” relationship versus an “us versus them” relationship, which can be adversarial in nature and based on distrust. Developing this connection involves communication through regular contacts.
Too often, a patrol officer’s interaction with the public may be limited to traffic stops and investigation of complaints which at times may not be a positive experience for the citizen. And although a nice exchange may involve a friendly wave between an officer and a resident as the officer drives by a person’s home, what is missing is conversation between both the officer and the citizen.
When officers are walking a beat on foot patrol, they have an opportunity to stop and say hello to those with which they come in contact. As this type of patrol’s pace is slow in nature, an officer has time to have a conversation and learn what is going on in the neighborhood. These personal interactions develop a sense of security for those who live or work in the neighborhood the officer patrols. Those feelings of security can translate into a deeper trust between the officer and those he serves. That trust is the glue of community policing.
It can result in the cooperative spirit necessary to make community policing a partnership with cops working together with their customers, the public, to find ways to develop strategies to prevent crime and improve the quality of life within a community. Foot patrols provide the up-close contact and familiarity that can enhance the “we” relationship for successful community policing.
This style of patrol can be particularly valuable for officer contacts with children who should look up to police officers as role models. By having a chance to stop and talk with children, cops are building on relationships that can help keep kids from going astray as they get older. These opportunities allow officers to impart periodic nuggets of wisdom to children they meet on their beat and are an investment that can result in productive returns on the future of their community.
Also, when the public can have up-close contact on a routine basis with those sworn to protect and serve them, they can develop a deeper appreciation of how their tax dollars are spent. With a tighter economy, our customers may not be interested in spending more of their money on police department budgets if they see limited returns on their dollar. Seeing a cop on foot on a regular rotation and the feeling of security is a tangible and intangible showing of their investment.
With time and developed contacts, officers on foot patrol can have their hand on the pulse of the neighborhood. They will recognize who is from the community and who is not. They will figure out who the trouble makers are and where they congregate. As people get to know and trust the officers, they will learn about criminal enterprises and where problems are developing that need to be addressed through increased vigilance. The development of informants can result from officers who walk a beat and “greet and meet” on a regular basis.
This level of familiarity with those they serve can provide for a wealth of intelligence on criminal activity for an agency. With special concern to domestic and foreign terrorism within our country, knowing what is going on in a particularly area is important for our national security. If someone moves into a neighborhood and his / her personal activity or habits, however simple or different, arouse suspicion, it may be the officer on foot who first learns of a person who may have terrorist ties.
Being “connected” within a neighborhood can provide useful intelligence for an agency and prevent crime or develop investigations that stop criminal activity that can range from illegal drug activity, gang fights or terrorism.
Health and Fitness
A regular foot patrol assignment can present valuable health and fitness benefits for an officer. The sedentary nature of police work when working from a cruiser doesn’t present many opportunities for conditioning while on duty. But getting out and walking a beat if only for a short period, i.e. 20 minutes, can provide a daily opportunity for exercise. Foot patrol allows for some stretching of legs and loosening of muscles as well as aerobic conditioning, which is good for our hearts.
The demands of police work such as rotating shifts and moments of sudden intense stress can put a real strain on an officer’s health. It is a reason officers should try to maintain high levels of fitness to counter these stressors. Foot patrol allows for a low-impact level of exercise for officers.
As many departments may not be able to provide exercise equipment for their officers to use, encouraging the practice of foot patrol is a cost effective way to encourage physical fitness. It is also a nice way for the officer to get some basic exercise and get paid for doing it. Foot patrol is nice win-win health benefit for the agency and the individual officer.
The benefits of foot patrol are many and can serve the interests of the officer, the department and the community. The community can develop an enhanced symbiotic relationship with the officer and the department in preventing crime and making their neighborhoods a safe place to live. Intelligence is gathered in a non-evasive manner and officers can use the assignment as an opportunity to exercise. Departments should encourage foot patrol as a regular part of their officer’s daily assignments. If they don’t, officers should take it upon themselves to make it a part of theirs.
Tom Wetzel is a northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant, SWAT officer, trainer and certified law enforcement executive. He holds a black belt in Goshin Jujitsu. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.