Blast: How much time does the average beat officer spend on patrol and how effective is that time?

John Blundell in Association Management Quarterly, Summer 2008

Blundell’s Blast

How much time does the average beat officer spend on patrol and how effective is that time?

The answers will shock you.

Most estimates of time spent on patrol are above 10% but below 20%. Those are not misprints: between ten and twenty!

And how effective is that time? Well officers patrol in pairs and mostly engage with each other. Go watch a pair – if you can find one! They will be totally absorbed in each other discussing holidays, hobbies, partners, colleagues, superiors and so on.

They might as well not be on patrol for all the good they are doing.

Officers in cars are even worse. They are totally cocooned by metal and glass. One US city did an experiment. It split its streets into three zones; it left car patrols the same in one zone, reduced it to zero in a second zone and doubled it in the third zone. Yes, you guessed it. Crime figures did not move one jot.

Cops in pairs offer other problems: they are more likely to be aggressive to peaceful citizens than a solo officer; and they are more likely to be injured. Let me explain. An officer on his/her own will quickly call for back up; officers in pairs tend to be more macho and more prepared to take risks.

So what is the answer? Is it lots more police?

No, we have plenty of officers; we just need to deploy them better, give them responsibility and hold them accountable. We also need patrol, the beat, to be the core and not something you do for a couple of years before becoming a detective say.

So if you made me Chairman of a Police Authority what would I be looking for in my Chief Constable?

First she (I would almost certainly select a lady) would make patrol the main function and the Deputy Chief Constable would be an officer who had come up from the beat.

Next, patrol would be on foot and by officers operating solo. Such officers would spend 90% of their time outside interacting with the public.

Then small groups of officers would be given long-term (three to five years) responsibility for a piece of territory. They would be encouraged to get deep into the fabric of the community, to gain the trust of hundreds of people.

Police chiefs in the USA who have re-establi