Surviving Foot Patrol
Walking a beat requires a different mindset and different tactics than driving one.
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.
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.
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.
The demands of the shift such as call volume and the people you encounter will likely alter specific courses that you planned. This is to be expected and should be considered an aspect of the directionless direction model.
Foot Patrol Precautions
When walking a beat, look for objects and locations that can provide you with needed cover. By doing this enough times, you will help engrain these opportunities in your mind so that under stress, you may use them
Get used to walking wide on corners when you walk a beat. This allows you to casually “slice the pie” as a manner of routine and look natural doing so.
When teaching self-defense programs, I tell participants to get in the habit of having their heads in a horizontal plane instead of looking down when walking to their cars. Too often, people get deep in thought and look downward at the ground as they walk. On foot patrol you could fall into the same habit. Looking at a more level position allows you to scan farther and recognize dangerous situations more quickly.