When police officers get out of their patrol cars to walk the beat, does it really make a difference to the relationship between law enforcement and the community?
A recent study by the Police Foundation suggests it does.
The study, by Brett M. Cowell and Anne L. Kringen, examined five police departments that have implemented foot patrols: Cambridge, MA; New Haven, CT; Kalamazoo, MI; Evanston, IL; and Portland, Or. The authors interviewed police managers, rank-and-file officers, and community members and found that “across all five sites and all participant groups….there was very strong support for the notion that foot patrol facilitates relationship-building between police officers and community members.”
The study, supported by the Charles Koch Foundation and published last month, quoted one assistant chief, who commented, “You can’t build a respectful relationship with a community when you are driving by them.”
Officers interviewed for the study reported psychological benefits, such as increased job satisfaction; and they noted that enhanced communication on the streets with community members improved their “problem-solving capability.”
But the authors also made clear that moving to foot patrols also carries with it serious challenges related to cost, performance evaluation, and “the potential for internal conflict between officers focused on community engagement and officers focused on the traditional crime control model.”
They cautioned that in order to reap the benefits of foot patrol, agencies will need “significant planning and preparation” before implementing the strategy.