Thursday, April 15, 2010

The beat goes on

The police beat is a relatively small parcel of land, into which is assigned one or more police officers.  The officer is responsible for the dispatches and events within the beat, but he or she may also be called away to help out on other nearby beats.  Beats are normally created, and their staffing determined, by some kind of analysis of the workload along with considerations with other boundaries like school attendance districts, neighborhoods, arterial streets, and natural features like rivers and streams.

Lincoln’s five Team Areas (our equivalent of what most departments would call a district) are further subdivided into ten beats, and the number of officers assigned in each is determined by workload analysis:  the greater the workload, the more officers and/or the smaller the beat. 

Some commentators believe that the police beat is an anachronism given the emergence of GIS technology which can be used for very precise targeting of police officers into “hot spots.” As you all know, I’m a GIS geek extraordinaire, but on this issue I disagree: police beats are still an important tool for assigning police responsibility, and the patch of land offers advantages over the “cops on dots” approach of hot spot policing. 

There is an interesting roundtable discussion about this underway at ESRI’s Spatial Roundtable.   The discussion was kicked off yesterday by my good friend (and former police chief) Lew Nelson, who is the law enforcement industry manager at ESRI.  I was an invited commentator, and have posted my response to Lew’s provocative question: “Are police beats obsolete?”  We’ll see where the rest of the commentators land on this issue. 


Peter said...

I have always thought one of the immediate benefits of "beats" is that a community becomes familiar with an officer so that a working relationship between the community and the police force is present in times of need. I'm a lot more likely to talk to an officer I see every day about the girl 3 houses down that seems to have a constant and varied guest list..

Anonymous said...

The good news about police beats is that there are no fences around them and officers can be sent where needed/when needed to assist at hot spots.

Even the Shire of Reeve had roving nomads thet could be deployed to the site of serial goat thievery, or perhaps a futbol match between England and Scotland. Same thing holds true today.


Anonymous said...

Do you know if that Joe Carragher guy has ever been a commissioned LEO, or has he always been a civilian employee? I ask, because no rank is mentioned, and I don't believe that plainclothes officers in the SPS dress like that while on non-undercover duty. I think I already know the answer, but I wanted to ask the question anyway.

Anonymous said...

It appears that your Southwest Team employees both philosophies. On the surface it appears to be working. What do you think?

Ben said...

Hey there chief!

Why not combine these two concepts and utilize the best of both worlds? You could have the majority of your force (say 75%) assigned to beats. The rest of the force could be "floaters" and could help in hot spots that need extra attention.

The floaters could rely on those assigned to a beat for in depth knowledge of the region if needed.

Tom Casady said...


Yes, in fact, I think this is quite common. Officers spend the vast majority of their proactive time in the areas of their beat where there are problems: if we do a good job of providing them with timely information on those problem areas, they can do a better job of concentrating their efforts where the greatest return-on-investment is possible. As a simple example, my neighborhood on SE B Beat doesn't need very much late night patrol, when a greater problem exists with construction site thefts a mile away in a developing subdivision.


I suspect that he is a civilian, in a job similar to a Crime Analysis Manager in the U.S., but we've never met. He and I are basically expressing the same concept--I'm just a bit more defensive of the patch as a viable unit of assignment for police officers on-the-ground. There will be more invited commentators weighing in on this, so check back on the Spatial Roundtable from time to time.


If you have a large enough force to do so, this approach has some merit. In our case, though, with our small number of officers, the formula of relatively large beats seems to work pretty well.

Anonymous said...

girl 3 houses down that seems to have a constant and varied guest list
April 15, 2010 8:06 AM:
Sounds like a chapter right out of MB.
I keep a good watch on our block. Checking the guests that a neighbor has (male OR female) is going too far. If they come all hours or in groups of three or four, it is none of my business. This is still America, or was the last time I watched Fox news. Most officers are not interested in our private lives. At the best, I would be viewed as strange if I start to keep count of private people visitors. The post reminds me that people like this live around us. thanks for the reminder.Sorry Peter, your one I would avoid.

Randy 552 said...

In my travels I have found Lincoln to be one of the safest, cleanest and family oriented communities, based on its size, I have encountered. I would be curious to see how Lincoln's crime rate ranks per capita compared to its peer communities.

Peter said...

Jim J---

I wouldn't be paying any attention to the guest list if they didn't violate the association rules regarding parking and pet control. My pregnant wife has had to hike a lot of extra miles because they took parking spaces they shouldn't and their pets (2 pitbulls) are pretty aggressive and have bitten me before. I keep track of comings and goings to know when I, my young child and my pregnant wife can safely move around outside our house.

From the vigilance needed to avoid these people and their pets I've become slightly concerned about the volume and varied amount of traffic going to/from the place (I count cars, not individuals).

The point of my comment is that I wouldn't call the police about it, but if I became familiar with an officer I would be likely to mention it to him/her. Who knows-- maybe a comment about constant traffic can lead to a drug bust?!?

Shame on me for wanting to keep irresponsible people with no regard for others away from me and my family.

You don't need to avoid me Jim-- I hate being around people who are quick on the judgments.

Anonymous said...


I think JimJ is the guy that currently posts the other folks' accident reports on his blog, so it's puzzling that he jumped on you for being too interested in what your neighbors do.

It's good to keep your antennae up around your neighborhood. We don't have a lot of police officers in Lincoln, relative to our population, and observant citizens are an effective force multiplier for the police. If something doesn't look right, you can report it, and they'll take it from there, follow it up or not. Perhaps the woman you refer to has previous contacts for this or that (use your imagination), and they might think it's worth following up.

Peter said...

I thought another follow-up would be appropriate on this subject. The double shooting reported in Lincoln was the house I mentioned in my earlier posts. It seems like I wasn't so paranoid after all...

Anonymous said...

I was a bit harsh. I just try to "spice up" the blog a bit. Sorry if I was too far out of line. I think you are very wise to be so cautious. I think my wife thinks I am too cautious. It is because of life encounters that make me that way.
Protecting family is important, but some people like MB take it way too far. Even to the point of following people around and constantly pestering and taking time of the LEO resources. You seem like a very kind blogger and sometimes I tend to rile things up too much. as for my blog, it is about circumstances and not people. I do not post names, even though, by law I could. But then the focus would be on people and not circumstances.

Anonymous said...

Randy 552-You're very right. Lincoln is a great community. Lincoln has a relatively low per capita crime rate. Interestingly, Lincoln has a relatively low police officer per capita rate as well. I know Chief Casady has several charts and graphs to back up my comments that he'd be happy to share.


Anonymous said...

Here's a possible "Stump the Sergeant" question:

Is it illegal to park in front of a fire hydrant - on a "blue" street?

Steve said...

I have no problem with people being observant of what goes on around them, and reporting it if they feel there is something going on that is illegal. In fact, I think it is any good citizen's duty to do so. That's not to say we should spend all our free time "spying" on the neighbors. However, when something catches your attention, it is not at all out of line to do a little follow up in order to protect yourself, your family, and your neighborhood.