Is Move To One-Officer Patrols Putting Cops At Risk?


Most law enforcement officials agree that when facing the unknown, two cops are safer than one. After a lone St. Louis patrol officer was killed last week without having asked for backup, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explored the issues. “In a perfect world, you get on the radio and tell the dispatcher where you are and that you are stopping people,” said Kevin Ahlbrand, president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association. “But sometimes you don’t have time to do that.”

Experts believe that more cities have moved toward staffing patrol cars with one officer, often in response to shrinking staffs and budgets. In St. Louis, the police force has been cut about 40 percent since 1970. Whereas dual patrols were once the rule, four out of five squad cars have lone officers. Officers with partners might feel a false sense of security in some cases, said Police Chief Joe Mokwa. By far, the highest numbers of assaults on officers are among those who are alone, either in a squad car or on foot patrol, said a March 2006 report by the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum. From 1983 through 1994, half the officers killed were on one-officer vehicle patrol, compared with 12 percent on two-officer vehicle patrol, said a study by Lorie Fridell of Florida State University and Antony Pate. Fridell said the numbers might simply reflect a higher percentage of officers on lone patrol and not necessarily an elevated risk to them. Bob Kaminski, criminologist at the University of South Carolina, said his research, using a larger sample of cities, found no relationship between incidence of officer killings and vehicle assignments.


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