As with many other elements of strategizing, the effectiveness of police foot patrol versus car patrol is certainly dependent on a variety of local elements. When city and state law enforcement establishes an optimal routine, they consider their community’s needs and the department’s capabilities. This being the case, both foot patrol and car patrol have certain strengths that the other might lack. For example, while foot patrol is more suited to establishing a community presence and improving relations, it does not cover large distances. On the other hand, car patrol is capable of covering a much wider area, but they are also more likely to incur significantly higher costs due to fuel consumption. Since both varieties of patrols serve unique purposes, it is inaccurate to suggest that one is wholly superior to the other in terms of effectiveness. Instead, each method has its benefits. Foot patrol allows officers and communities to develop professional relationships in order to prevent crime, whereas, car patrol allows officers to cover large areas in order to quickly respond or apprehend.
Foot patrols require a degree of planning in order to be successful. Craven (2009) suggested foot patrols are best utilized as “a proactive, integrated problem-solving strategy and not as a reactive response to an incident” (no pag.). Fundamentally, foot patrol can be a source of security because there is a certain amount of permanence. For example, officers who are on foot patrols will become familiar with the neighborhoods and the people who live there. In this way, portions of the patrolled community may feel as though they are in a safe environment. Thus, it creates the foundation for a prosperous relationship between the officer and citizen. In addition, it is important to acknowledge that a successful foot patrol is more than “just walking around” (Craven, 2009) because it absolutely involves engaging in community-oriented policing, determining their needs, and involving them in creating a society.
Next, in order for foot patrol to be effective, one would consider its objective and feasibility. For example, once the police department assigned the officers, they would determine the size of the patrol area. In addition, police departments have to determine how to allocate resources for foot patrol while they ensure their officers’ safety. Essentially, foot patrol’s ultimate goal is to find a way to strengthen community ties with law enforcement and each other while they attempt to subdue future crimes (Craven, 2009). No matter the desired end of the patrol, the effect is largely the same. The Public Safety Strategies Group (2007) noted the continued presence of foot patrol will “reduce the fear of crime but are generally unable to reduce the incidence of crime” (p.1). Nevertheless, these incidences of crime are relegated to other areas with less of a police presence. This deterrence effect could be inhibited by foot patrol officers being “assigned to replace vehicle-based patrol in large geographic areas will be spread too thin” (Public Safety Strategies Group, 2007, p. 4). In effect, foot patrol could supplement car patrol because one could not necessarily replace the other. With this in mind, it begs the question of what effectiveness means in regard to the two different patrols.
If effectiveness is gauged solely as the area that an officer could cover at a given time then a car patrol is unquestionably more efficient; however, car patrols do not foster the same sense of security. Cole (2014) revealed “the effect of the police on crime depends less on how many officers are deployed in an area than on what they do while they are there” (p. #). In other words, saturating areas with patrol cars or foot patrol officers is not necessarily crime prevention. At the same time, there are instances in which car patrol is the most effective choice.
In the event of emergencies, car patrol officers are able to respond quickly and cover wide distances in short times. While dispatch will often direct patrol officers to emergency scenes, there will be some cases in that an officer is in the area, and he or she will be able to respond quickly in a car. Furthermore, Cole (2014) has noted “Cars increase the amount of territory that officers can control” (p. 142). Ultimately, officers in cars can cover more distance than foot patrol. In addition, Cole (2014) emphasized police cars offer the convenience of technology because they come equipped with computers. Therefore, car patrol officers are able to easily look up any crucial information regarding potential suspects. At the same time, car patrol does not offer the opportunity for community policing because the officers are held at a distance.
Ultimately, foot control may increase citizen involvement. Ratcliffe et al. (2011) suggested police departments use foot patrols along with other safety strategies in order to “increase[e] citizen’s perception of safety” (p. 801). By reinforcing, or perhaps re-establishing, a culture of trust amongst the citizenry results in a more fluid and cooperative attitude and positive perception of police. In effect, foot patrol is proactive because it involves the community and allows them to establish friendly relationships with law enforcement. Using foot control along with strategies such as neighborhood crime watches may encourage neighborhoods to work with police instead of mistrusting them.
In sum, car patrol and foot control are equally effective, but police departments have to consider the overall goal and their specific community. If a community’s main objectives are to foster community awareness and gain community trust involving crime prevention, foot patrol will be the most effective. However, it cannot be a community overwrought with criminal activity. In the event a neighborhood is dangerous, car patrol will offer law enforcement protection as they patrol the areas. Regardless of the choice of patrol, it is still up to the department to provide security to the community while protecting their officers. In this sense, it would depend on the environment to reveal the most effective patrol.
Cole, G. F., Smith, C. E., & DeJong, C. (2014). Chapter 5. In Criminal justice in America (7th ed., pp. 141-177).
Craven, K. (2009, February). Foot patrols: Crime analysis and community engagement to further the commitment to community policing. The E-newsletter of the COPS Office, 2. Retrieved from http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/February_2009/foot_patrol.htm
Public Safety Strategies Group. (2007, November 19). Perspectives on foot patrols: Lessons learned from foot patrol programs and an overview of patrol in San Francisco [PDF]. San Francisco: The City and County of San Francisco.
Ratcliffe, J. H., Taniguchi, T., Groff, E. R., & Wood, J. D. (2011). The Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Police Patrol Effectiveness in Violent Crime Hotspots*. Criminology, 49(3), 795-831. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2011.00240.x