Experimental research on policing is inspired by the public health analogy of officers as treatment providers. A randomized violence reduction experiment in Philadelphia recently used foot patrols as place-based interventions in violent city spaces during a hot spots policing experiment, and a 23 percent reduction in violent crime was observed.
This paper reports on field observations of foot patrol officers involved in this experiment, which were designed to capture officers' perceptions of, and experiences with the foot patrol function. The findings illuminated the importance of ‘territoriality’ in a place-based intervention. Officers developed extensive local knowledge of their beat areas, which allowed them to draw from a repertoire of techniques to exert spatial control in the management of disorder. The choice of techniques depended in part on officer style, and the ways in which individual police negotiated the tensions between ‘reassurance policing’ and the crime fighting demands of ‘real police work’. Perhaps most importantly, officers felt constrained by the (artificial) parameters of an experiment that did not allow for the incorporation of local knowledge. This research helps to highlight the value of qualitative research for experimental designs, and reinforces the need to acknowledge and integrate officer knowledge in the design of sustainable interventions.