Patrol is the backbone of a police department. The majority of police officers are assigned to the patrol division. Patrol officers make the most important decisions in policing and are the gatekeepers of the entire criminal justice system. Most police officers spend the majority of their career in the patrol division. The patrol officer is usually the lowest paid, least consulted, and most taken for granted member of the police force.
There are three distinct functions of patrol. The first is to deter crime by creating an impression of omnipresence that will eliminate the opportunity for criminal behavior. The second is to maintain feelings of public safely. The third function of patrol is to make officers available for service.
If you visit different police departments, you will find that patrol is carried out in very different ways. The way a police department carries out patrol is sometimes based on the number of sworn officers. It is also based on the percentage of officers assigned to the patrol division. Patrol officers can be assigned to different shifts based on the need for additional patrol.
There are different types of control within a police department. Most patrol is done by automobile, but some patrol is done on foot, and other patrol is done on motorcycles or bicycles. There has always been a debate about the idea of one-officer verses two-officer patrol cars.
James Q. Wilson identified three distinct organizational styles. The watchman style emphasizes peacekeeping without aggressive law enforcement and few controls over rank-and-file officers. The legalistic style emphasizes aggressive crime-fighting and attempts to control officer behavior through a rule-bound, "by the book" administrative approach. The service style emphasizes responsiveness to community expectations and is generally found in suburban police departments where there is relatively little crime.
Patrol supervision is usually accomplished by the sergeant on duty. The principle of the span of control holds that a supervisor can effectively manage only a limited number of people. The recommended span of control is one sergeant for about eight officers.
The nerve center of policing is the communications center. This is where 911 calls are received and police cars are dispatched according to a complex priority system. The dispatcher has tremendous discretion in making important decisions.
There have been four major observational studies of police patrol over the past fifty years. These studies are entitled: American Bar Foundation Survey, President's Crime Commission, Police Services Study, and The Project on Policing Neighborhoods.
Most calls to the police department are classified as either order-maintenance calls or service calls. Criminal law enforcement calls represent a minority of all calls received.
Many other issues are presented and discussed, such as response time, officer's use of patrol time, evasion of duty, and high-speed pursuits.
The chapter ends with a general discussion of the effectiveness of patrol. This includes a specific discussion of The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment.