The satisfying effect of foot patrols

A recent study by the American Police Foundation, mentioned in the latest publication of the Polizei Newsletter, carried out by Brett M. Cowell  and Anne L. Kringen, tries to gain an insight into the effects of foot patrols, and the challenges they face in the future.

police_foot_patrol_philadelphiaThis is a frequently debated issue in the world of, mainly American, criminology. Based on the now dated experiments in Kansas City and the the Newark foot patrol, it has become a recurring issue, and there was even an argument about how long police presence worked a deterrent. In recent years, the experiment involving foot patrols focussed on Philadelphia combined the effect of foot patrols with the principles applied to smart policing.

The discussion about all these cases, on the one hand, focuses on the preventive capacity of police presence, and, on the other hand, determine if this presence is more effective on foot or in vehicles. As the authors of the project say: “Although the foot patrol may be seen as a strategy to reduce crime, there are no definitive conclusions in terms of their effectivity at this point”. In many cases, effectivity varies in accordance with how the patrols are applied.

In order to draw clear and more enlightening conclusions, the study has worked with five police services which carry out foot patrols in different ways: the Cambridge Police Department, the New Haven Police Department, the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, the Evanston Police Department and the Portland Police Bureau. The research team carried out semi-structured interviews with police agents, and groups linked to members of the community and observation techniques.

The results of the study reflect clear benefits associated with foot patrols:

  • The foot patrol facilitates a relationship between citizens and the police.
  • The foot patrol promotes effective problem-solving skills for police officers.
  • The relationship established due to police patrols can change the way people see the police.
  • This relationship can enhance police legitimacy in the eyes of the community
  • The foot patrol compensates and psychologically benefits the officers involved.

The study also detects future challenges to be faced by this kind of patrol:

  • Patrols need to be well-staffed.
  • Traditional indicators to evaluate police activity may be inadequate to assess the efficiency of foot patrols.
  • The foot patrol focused on contact with the population may be regarded as anti-ethical by the traditional police model, focussed on controlling crime, and may lead to dysfunctions and contradictions within the police force as an organization.


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