Two foot patrols per shift? I quietly shook my head in disbelief. It was like someone was asking me to perform some impossible task. I thought foot patrol was reserved for punishment. Foot patrols were one of many proactive measures that my supervisor explained we would be conducting. He said that we were losing control of an area and that we were going to take it back.
The location was a residential area of only a few city blocks. But it was packed full of individuals who weren’t exactly pillars of the community. Days earlier, a marked unit had been pelted by rocks at the hands of several suspected gang members. This was the breaking point for my shift commander. It was time to do something about it, and foot patrols would be part of the solution.
I was a relatively new officer and had never done a foot patrol. It didn’t take long for me to realize that once you get out of your car, you can see, hear and smell things that you wouldn’t detect from inside your cruiser. Often, you can also often walk up on people undetected, unlike pulling up in a cruiser. I learned it’s pretty easy for a bad guy to hide from approaching cars at night and that you can hear the approaching cars from a distance, which is something worth thinking about when you respond to calls in a patrol car. I found that foot patrol was a new opportunity for me to be proactive.
During our patrols, we would occasionally walk past a vacant mobile home in the area. The trailer was often a target for gang graffiti and was sometimes frequented by drug users. One evening, we walked behind the home to check on some new graffiti. When we reached the rear, we saw that someone had pried off the boards that had covered one of the windows. The owners of the building had requested us to keep an eye on the place. We made entry in the hopes of finding a trespasser. Instead, we found the scene of a homicide. It was cases like this that truly made me a believer in foot patrols.
In the weeks that followed we did exactly what our supervisor had set out to accomplish. High-visibility patrols through the area gave the residents hope that we had not given up on them. We had citizens come forward and provide information that helped us not only solves crimes but determine other needs in the area (e.g., issues with street lights, overgrown trees). I learned that through foot patrols we could build relationships with citizens and find solutions to problems through collaboration and teamwork.
That was then; this is now. Today, I’m the supervisor telling officers about the advantages of foot patrols. I see the disappointed look on the officers’ faces when I mutter the dreaded ″F″ word (foot patrol). I know what they’re thinking. I know they don’t believe me when I tell them it’s a tool that shouldn’t be overlooked. They would much rather be answering calls or running traffic. But with the economic downturn, I think now it’s more important than ever to consider conducting more foot patrols when possible. Not because it saves money on gas or wear and tear on the cars, but because it generates arrests. I know, you’re probably asking yourself, ″What is this guy talking about?″ I’ve found that if a foot patrol is conducted in a target-rich environment, it can and will generate arrests—period.
I know many law enforcement agencies in my home state have recently considered eliminating positions because of budget cuts. Luckily, I don’t work for one of them. But if I did, I would be using every proactive policing tool possible to make arrests and justify the need for my position.
You all know where the ″hot spots″ are in policing your city—places where people are using or selling drugs spray painting graffiti or committing other crimes. Instead of waiting for the calls to come in, send in some officers on foot and try to make a case on them. Once the officers experience some successes with foot patrols, it will be something they start to do on their own. A few months ago, some of our officers were walking through an apartment complex. While walking through, they smelled the odor of burnt marijuana. They ultimately secured a search warrant, arrested six and seized a couple pounds of marijuana. This was no accident. These guys knew the apartment complex was known for drug use and conducted a well-timed foot patrol.
Foot patrols can be conducted virtually anywhere, as long as the area is reasonably safe for the officers to enter. Keep in mind that every jurisdiction is unique. There are some areas or times where it could be hazardous to send officers in on foot, and, therefore, foot patrol may be an unwise choice. You know your city and should reasonably know when and where it would be safe to send officers on a foot patrol. With that said, I’ve had good luck focusing foot patrols (when conditions are safe) in the following areas:
- Apartment complexes;
- Liquor establishments;
- Trailer courts;
- Downtown business districts;
- Pawn shops;
- In some cases residential areas;
- City parks; and
- Public beaches.
Sometimes it’s hard to leave the comfort of your patrol because it’s too hot or too cold outside. But it does pay off from time to time. Most good patrol officers enjoy the hunt and feel pretty good when they can make felony cases based on their own ideas or decisions. Those who don’t believe will learn the benefits for themselves, just as I did. Several good criminal cases are ripe for the taking, but you have to get out of the car to find them. The next time you work, consider pairing up with another officer and taking a walk. You may be surprised what you uncover.