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Departments : The Winning Edge

Surviving Foot Patrol

Walking a beat requires a different mindset and different tactics than driving one.

November 18, 2011  |  by Tom Wetzel

Photo: Tom Wetzel
Photo: Tom Wetzel

Prior to the development of the automobile and subsequently police cruisers, if cops weren't on horses, they were walking a beat.

The benefits of foot beats are many and this type of patrol should be a fundamental aspect in any community policing model. But after being directed to an assigned area or neighborhood to walk, an officer and his or her department should have sound strategies in place for how best to accomplish this mission in a safe and productive manner.

Clothing and Footwear

Having a good pair of shoes is naturally an important component of any foot patrol function. If this assignment is full-time, you should be permitted to purchase athletic shoes or specific shoes made for long walking.

Tactical boots are not the preferred shoe of choice for this assignment. Even though manufacturers have made a lot of advances in the design of police boots and made them much lighter, boots just aren't made for the high mileage that a foot patrol assignment involves.

An agency must recognize that when assigning an officer to a foot beat that officer will likely go through more shoes than if he or she was patrolling in a cruiser. If your department provides a clothing allowance, it should include extra funds for purchasing athletic shoes, which can get pretty expensive.

Clothing for foot patrol officers needs to be lightweight and designed for comfort and coolness in the summer months. Shorts and polo-type shirts can provide this type of benefit and still allow for a professional presentation.

Force Options

Having lots of use-of-force options is especially important for an officer on foot patrol. You won't have a cruiser to use as cover or provide for a quick tactical retreat.

Your duty belt needs to be equipped with pepper spray, electronic control devices, a control baton, and your duty weapon. You should also work regularly on defensive tactics techniques.

As communications with your agency dispatch center or patrol units are vital, as a foot patrol officer you need to have good portable radios and at least one backup battery. You also need a cell phone.

Directionless Direction

Once you begin a foot patrol assignment, it is important to develop a strategy that provides a consistent officer presence without an obvious routine that can be recognized.

By following a different daily path as a course of action, you can patrol using a "directionless direction" model. This model involves beginning at a different spot at the start of each shift and then following a different pattern of movement with concentration on areas of concern within a neighborhood or district. This could be done on a random basis or involve charting a course of movement for the week.

When walking a course, periodically stopping, turning around and going back in the same direction can present an opportunity for surprise. If a suspect sees you walking down a street, he or she is likely to assume that you will continue in that direction. Even if he thinks you may loop back around a block, there may be a perception of a window of time to commit a crime. Sudden rerouting may thwart these opportunities. 

Comments (1)

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Capt David-Ret LA County @ 12/9/2011 5:25 PM

I absolutely loved walking a beat. Did many weekends on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Great way to see things you would miss in a car.

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