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Lone-Officer Patrols: Going Solo

More and more officers work their entire shift alone, only calling for backup when things really go South.

March 28, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Is There Safety in Numbers?

For some police veterans like Lt. Amaury Murgado of the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office, the "one size fits all" paradigm of police personnel allocation is frustrating.

"Understand that a big chunk of law enforcement bureaucrats are stuck in the '70s," notes Murgado. "They also wouldn't know how to handle a call if their life depended on it. (When it comes to the prospect of going out in a one-person car) It's easy for them to fall back on telling officers, 'Well, that's your job.'"

Murgado gives voice to the concerns of thousands of officers who intuitively, instinctively, and intellectually believe in the adage of "safety in numbers."

One Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy bitterly states that, "With LASD, two-man cars are either training units or early morning shift cars in unincorporated parts of the county. When I was on patrol, we were the busiest station in the entire county. Couple of murders a week, all kinds of force incidents, and we were still rolling one-man cars. The almighty dollar still reigns supreme and officer safety be damned."

Even those not so condemning of the one-officer-one-car operational paradigm acknowledge a preference for having the passenger seat occupied and that the arguments for deploying a second officer go beyond officer/suspect confrontations.

Threat Awareness

The presence of a second officer not only lessens the workload and anxiety otherwise borne by the single officer, it allows for greater latitude of force options; indeed, the possibility of mitigating force altogether by availing more than one communicative approaches to situations.

Two-officer units allow the driver officer to be more attentive to his or her driving. The less-obligated bookman is then freer to pick up on potential community threats or concerns when not handling the radio or acknowledging a call via his or her MDT.

Teaneck, N.J., police officer John Abraham's death is just one of many fatal single party police crashes wherein the primary causal factor is at best inferred. One thing is known: In the moments leading up to the 2 a.m. crash, he'd been running computer checks on license plates. Had a bookman been handling the MDT, might the crash have been avoided?

Again, the whole "well, maybe we might've had two dead cops" argument could come into play here. Indeed, the single officer car is something some administrators may point to as a reason why officers aren't getting killed with the degree of frequency that they did 40 years ago. However, considering the increased emphasis on tactical training, body armor, and improved medical intervention, one might just as reasonably ask why officer deaths aren't lower than they are.

From the moment she takes the wheel, the solo officer has her hands full. She is expected to somehow simultaneously be cognizant of suspicious activities, effect traffic stops, and respond to calls—all the while navigating her way around a confined environment occupied with dash cameras, mobile digitals, license plate recognition systems, and computers.

And should she be distracted in attending to any one of these components and find herself in a collision, these same confinements may then become projectiles upon impact.

Life outside the car is no less challenging. Weaned on officer safety mantras like "watch the hands," she becomes judicious in screening her traffic stops, preferring single occupant detentions whenever possible: The fewer things to watch for, the better. Still, she occasionally finds herself outnumbered, and divides her vigilance accordingly as she awaits the arrival of backup.

Despite these concerns, the contemporary officer has by and large made peace with working solo. Today, most cops are accustomed to working alone and-save for their patrol training—have never experienced otherwise. Many—like Sgt. Jason Wolak of the LASD—find cause to prefer working alone.

"If your partner is rude, egotistical, and dangerous, then give me that King car," says Wolak. "The key to one-person cars is the relationship with your sister car."

Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

Sheriff Steven W. Stapp @ 3/28/2011 6:01 PM

This is a fear I have for my officers and myself... When I took office in 2004, Dade County (Missouri) had 6 full time county deputies, 2 part time deputies and myself to respond to calls. Now we have been cut down to 1 full time deputy, 3 part time and myself. So unfortunately my full time deputy and myself cover the week days and nights, with 3 part timers covering the weekends. We have tried to pass a tax for 3 years, but the economy has hit everyone hard here... Wish I had a good answer!

billie @ 4/12/2011 1:29 PM

dear god, all officers need backup, even in the most benign "seeming" calls. they all are all our saviours!

DaveSam25G @ 5/22/2011 10:32 PM

Lot’s of wisdom here, well researched and written this article, from all points of view!! I find this article extremely interesting and alarming as one of the Departments mentioned in this study is also the department where (Contact and Cover) came into play and works extremely well when applied - By Lt John Morrison and Sgt Steven Albrecht. Other factors to consider size of families (emotions) and the fact those other family members may also be en-route to the domestic violence scene with weapons or emotions. I feel more than 1 solo officer is best on this type call even with back-up responding unless you absolutely have to go in it’s prudent to have more eyes and ears. As distractions or seconds count! And never an easy answer or one size fits all!

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