Patrol accounts for the biggest portion of police work in most police agencies. The terms “patrolling” and ”on patrol” generally refer to what officers do while not handling calls for service—officers do this mostly in patrol cars, but sometimes on foot, on bicycles, on horseback, or the like. While on patrol, officers may look for traffic violations, suspicious behavior, disorder, and unsafe conditions. They may also look for opportunities to interact with the public in casual or more formal situations. This is all considered patrolling. The time that police officers spend handling calls for service is also considered part of patrol work. Officers on patrol respond to calls, take reports, quell disturbances, and so forth. The
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By the 1970s, a second fundamental purpose of patrol had taken root—waiting. Many patrol officers came to see their jobs primarily as handling calls, and when they were not “on a call” they were waiting for one. As waiting joined watching as a purpose of patrol, and in some cases largely replaced it, patrol became a more reactive and passive activity.
Research on Patrol
Careful research on the practice and effectiveness of police patrol started slowly in the 1950s and began to flourish in the 1970s. Early findings focused primarily on the discovery that patrol officers exercised wide discretion when enforcing the law and maintaining order. It was found that police invoke the law much less often than they could, often preferring to handle situations informally. Police officer discretionary decisions about whether to enforce the law are affected by such factors as department policy, victim/complainant preferences, suspect demeanor, and the seriousness of the offense. Research on the makeup of patrol officer workload indicates about a fifty-fifty split between time spent handling calls and time spent patrolling, although, of course, this varies widely between jurisdictions and across different shifts. Officers on the day shift handle relatively more routine crime reporting and public service duties, evening shift officers handle more disorders and disputes and crimes in progress,