Monday, August 30, 2010

On patrol

One of the most common activities of police officers in the United States is driving around in cars—or as we call it, patrol.  The automobile is so integral to the definition of patrol, that we must convert a noun into an adjective to describe patrol by any other means: hence, foot patrol and bike patrol. 

Every time I hear the phrase routine patrol, I cringe.  First, there should never be such a thing as routine in policing, and second, the thought of police officers in cars on routine patrol makes me think of another phrase: driving around aimlessly burning fossil fuel.  So, whenever I hear the phrase routine patrol, my habit is to substitute my own phrase.  Thus, a news story sounds something like this in my head:

“Saturday, police officers, driving around aimlessly burning fossil fuel, fortuitously stumbled upon two wanted men who were in possession of a large quantity of stolen property and illegal drugs.” 

Patrol is expensive.  The Lincoln Police Department has a fleet of over 120 marked patrol cars.  It takes a lot of police officers to ensure that all those cars have drivers during the week, and we drive about two million miles every year. I came to this profession in the 1970’s when some of the seminal research in our field was being published. I cut my academic teeth on such studies as the Kansas City Preventative Patrol Experiment, which questioned the efficacy of this pillar of American policing.

I believe patrol should never be aimless or routine.  It should have a direction, a purpose, and be part of a strategy.  Moreover, patrol should not be the only—nor even the dominant—activity the police engage in to promote a safe and secure community.  Patrol may have its value, but it is only one arrow in the quiver.

This was one of the themes of the two-day class I conducted for our new recruits in the police academy last Thursday and Friday.  The first day was a class I’ve done for several years, and blogged about before: how to use the department’s considerable information resources.  Day two, however, concerned what to do with that information—how to move beyond the call, the case, and driving around aimlessly burning fossil fuel to something more productive in advancing our mission.  More on that will follow, as the week unfolds.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like 619 had a busy day last week, on his "routine patrol" (sorry, couldn't resist). Is it true he found four miscreants with warrants in one morning? My point is that there is a value to having officers out on the street.

Anonymous said...

Ask the average Hollyrock director or screenwriter how many types of infantry patrols there are and to briefly define the purpose of each, and (with few exceptions) you'd likely get a blank, confused expression. Most of them think that there is only one type, and the purpose of that one is to give characters the opportunity to walk too close together, while making too much noise and exchanging one-lined banter.

If you asked them the same thing about patrol types in your line of work, you'd surely run into the same deer-in-the-headlights look.

Steve said...

I realize driving around aimlessly looking for suspicious activity burns fuel and time. On the other hand, police presence must surely deter some criminal activity, whether it be someone about to break into a house, or someone looking for a drag race down main street. What if we went one better than life-sized cardboard cutouts of police cars or officers holding radar guns (such as those that have been used in other cities) and actually allowed citizens to paint their cars like police cars and put (non-functioning) cherry tops on them? I'd bet there would be dozens of people around town who would enjoy the novelty of driving around in a "police cruiser". Of course, they wouldn't be allowed to make traffic stops or perform any other police function, but their simple presence might have a significant effect on crime.

The cheese stands alone said...

I think the phrase probably stemmed from defense attorneys alleging officers were targeting their clients when stopped by officers. Therefore, officers had to start reiterating the stop was part of their routine duties as police officers. Kind of like how they have to say they were in uniform and displaying their badge. Please rewrite a foot pursuit report for us to articulate the officer was wearing clothes.

Anonymous said...

The world has enough problems with police impersonators as it is. I don't think we need any more of those.

Anonymous said...


Sometimes you find things like this. Second time around on burglary (ref the 2009 one that got dropped). Do you usually refer/kick up things like the short shotgun and the defaced firearm charges to the US Atty?

Grundle King said...

A little off-topic, but is there a way to request speed enforcement on a given street? It's not really a main thoroughfare, but the one-way street in front of my house seems to be a good place to test one's least that's the impression I get from half the cars that use my street.

Tom Casady said...


Hardly "routine" is it? Yes, we meet with the USA monthly on these cases, and they've been quite helpful in pursuing some gun violations at the Federal level.


Click here.

SP said...

Admittedly, this is rather tangential to patrols, but I stumbled across it and was curious if Lincoln has had any other run-ins with notorious bank robbers:

My dad keeps telling me Lincoln was home to one of the largest bank robberies in US history, but I've been unable to find anything.

Tom Casady said...


That would be the 1930 robbery of the Lincoln National Bank, for decades the largest cash bank robbery in U.S. history. The 80th anniversary is coming up in two weeks.