Recent studies investigating the impact of street-level police (foot patrol) suggest that placing officers in crime hotspots can, at least temporarily, reduce violence in that area. These studies also support the notion that police officers on foot patrol gain significant local knowledge of their “beats” which can prove valuable for performing their duties.
Inner-city crime and violence is widely regarded as a severe public health threat across the United States and has been the focus of varied interventions, ranging from early prevention programs to targeted law enforcement. The Philadelphia Police Department and Temple University are working together to better understand how police tactics effect crime.
A recent experiment suggests that foot patrol can reduce violence in crime hotspots, and that these officers should play a key role in creating violence prevention strategies. The experiment, which looked at officers patrolling on the street in the more crime-ridden city spaces in Philadelphia, showed a 23 percent reduction in violent crime during the experimental period. These results were originally published in a paper in the journal Criminology in 2011. A follow-up analysis also published in Criminology, however, shows that these effects were not sustained after the experiment ended. This suggests that foot patrol is effective as an immediate deterrent but does not represent a strategy for achieving long term reductions in crime
A new study published by Policing and Society reports the field observations of foot patrol officers involved in this experiment. The study, by Jennifer Wood, PhD and her colleagues answered key questions about how officers experience their foot patrol assignments. It shows that officers develop extensive local knowledge of their beat areas and form valuable relationships with community members. Police officers appeared to believe that, at a minimum, they could achieve temporary effects. It also shows that officers interact and conduct their patrol differently, depending on the officer’s style. The study reinforces the need to acknowledge and integrate officer intelligence into larger intervention strategies.
An additional study, published in Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management, also revealed the noticeable differences between foot patrol and car patrol: police officers on foot are more likely to conduct pedestrian stops and deal with disorder and drug offenses, while officers on car-based patrol handled the vast majority of reported crime incidents.
The Foot Patrol experiment was conducted by Temple University researchers in cooperation with the Philadelphia Police Department, funded in part by a grant from Public Health Law Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.