Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Cultural Shift Of Police Getting Out Of Their Cars

Last week I saw this bit over at The Seattle Times that I think is worth commenting on. Seattle Police recently announced a crime fighting initiative aimed at reducing crime in identified crime hot spots in Seattle.
Armed with crime data, commanders in each of the Seattle Police Department's five precincts are identifying "hot spots" and directing patrol officers to get out of their cars in those areas, interact with residents and business owners to gain information, and deter crime and reduce fear by increasing their visibility.
The one quote in the story that really caught my eye was this one:
"We typically work from a random patrol standpoint," he said. "Getting out of the patrol car is a cultural change for us."
Seattle is probably not the only place where having police officers get out of their cars to interact with the citizenry is a "cultural change". However, it's very hard to meaningfully interact with people when you're whizzing by in an air conditioned patrol car at 30 miles per hour with the windows rolled up and the good times radio blasting out your favorite tunes. It's a shame that in many cities, police work has devolved to officers driving from call to call with little discretionary time to get out of their cars. 

It's also unfortunate that "random patrol" is thought of as a crime fighting strategy by so many agencies. You might as well say that your plan is "driving around aimlessly hoping to stumble onto crime". The good thing is that most officers' "random patrol" is hardly random. They know what neighborhoods have crime problems and likely are spending more time there trying to reduce crime even if they haven't been directed from above.

As crime analysts we can help those officers and the agency brass understand your community's crime problems more clearly and help formalize a strategy that is anything but random. What are you doing to help direct your officers' discretionary time to where it's most likely to be effective?


  1. The inverse is that some agencies are moving towards more & more documentation. It won't take more than a few changed words in our policy before I will have to write a report every time I talk to a citizen while on duty. As it is, I can easily spend 3-4 hours of my 10 hour shift on documentation. The way things are going, I'll be spending 8 hours documenting the 2 hours I actually get to do work in...

  2. Jon, Thanks for the comment. You are right about one of the discretionary time thieves. Streamlining procedures can lead to more time for officers to use for important things. That might mean reducing redundant paperwork, using technology to make filling out forms easier or getting rid of some of it altogether.


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