Single officer police patrols: an idea whose time has come – again

Sir Paul Stephenson, the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has repeated his call that police officers should patrol singly rather than walk along in twos.  This is welcome.  Too often, when you do see police officers or police community support officers patrolling on foot, you see two or more officers walking along – deep in conversation with each other.

It is has been the pattern for many years that in most areas of London police patrol in pairs ostensibly for officer safety reasons.  While I have some sympathy with this in certain specific areas, I  am sure in most cases the safety requirement would be met by officers patrolling close to each other but not actually walking together – eg by being on opposite sides of the street.  This would mean that they were more likely to engage with passers-by (rather than just talk to each other) and would increase the sense of presence and public safety.

So it is good to hear Sir Paul’s commitment.  However, I also remember his two predecessors making similar promises and nothing happened.  It will be an interesting test of the new Commissioner to see whether he can actually make good on this patrolling promise.  If he can, he will clearly have achieved something that evaded Sir Ian Blair and Sir John Stevens (now Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington).

2 thoughts on “Single officer police patrols: an idea whose time has come – again”

  1. Hi
    I read your article with interest regarding Single Police Patrols.
    As usual people on the outside of the service do not realise the effect the finer points of this idea has on officers who actually have to work it.
    The single patrols not only apply to walking officers but also the majority of police vehicles too.
    The personal radios that the police use have a telephone capacity which in turn means that they are classified as hand held telephone devices, which means that they must not be used whilst driving. If an officer is single crewing a vehicle and he is called on his radio or needs to use the radio, he has to pull over switch the engine off in order to use it otherwise he could get fined and received points on his personal license just as anyone else would.
    The on board computer system that are in all police vehicle must not be used by the driver if he is driving, otherwise he would be not in proper control of his vehicle, but all jobs that the vehicle’s occupants are assigned to comes via this terminal, without an operator the driver could be prosecuted if he uses it. The computer also is used for checking vehicles “on the move” again without an operator this facility is now rendered useless.
    The caged vans are now being single crewed which can mean an officer transporting a prisoner on his own, which in turn means as well as having to concentrate on driving he has to watch and look after the prisoner in the cage.
    Probationer constables that are fresh from training are now being sent out on the streets of London, with very little on the job training. Their mentor (if they have one) is only allowed to be in the proximity of the probationer, maybe in the same road but a distance away or even around the corner out of sight. These new officers are literally being thrown into the fire and as a result dont be surprised if there is a mass exodus of these new people leaving the service.
    The counter terrorism vehicles which all boroughs have to supply are vehicles that respond to calls of suspect packages and vehicles. These are now being single crewed, upon arrival at a suspect package or vehicle a lone officer has to assess the situation, keep the public away from the item. Use his radio to inform other officers and the control room of what is going on, this has to be done a certain distance from the item meaning he has to be in 2 places at the same time. Which in reality means the public are then put in danger when he goes the specific distance to use his radio.
    Single patrolling has its place, but with modern technology in vehicles and the threat that London is under there are certainly places where it is not.
    Its all very well saying well 30 or 40 years ago officers patrolled on their own, but 30 or 40 years ago if a copper told a group of young people to go home and stop causing trouble they were more likely to in case you told their parents. Now days the same group would more than likely attack the officer.
    Personlly I think it is very short sighted of the management of the service that have implemented this to try and save a few pounds and fool the public into thinking there are more police on the streets than there really is.
    There is the same amount just spread that little bit more thinly.
    Thank you for listening.
    I have used a false name for fear of reprisals from work senior management.
    PC Magary number 452
    Camberwick Green

  2. PC Magary – we salute you. Salient points of which the public, management and Home Officer are totally unaware.

    Single patrolling is an outdated concept. I agree (in part) with sending EXPERIENCE Safer Neighbourhoods and other foot patrol officers out on Single Patrol so long as a colleague is within sight of them. That’s not the issue.

    The issue here is single crewing of VEHICLES.

    With two officers in a car, only one car was ordinarily required to provide an initial response to most types of calls.

    Our Officer Safety Model is built around the concept of “Contact and Cover”. One officer engages with a suspect whilst the other stands back a little, observing the interaction and ready to provide assistance should things go wrong.

    It’s a thing that’s worked well for the thirteen years I’ve been a patrolling officer.

    You can’t send one officer to a violent domestic. It’s common sense. So now two vehicles have to respond to provide the minimum two officers required to deal safely with the incident. And for every additional officer required, an additional vehicle is taken off the road.

    As a result, vehicles are very quickly going “off-line” for prisoner processing, crime reporting and other administrative matters.

    For example, if four officers witness an arrest, all four should do arrest notes. As soon as practicable. So that’s FOUR vehicles off the road for over an hour whilst notes are made.

    We now have a massive backlog of calls (some urgent, some less urgent) and nobody to respond to them.

    Oh, hang on. We DO have people to respond to them. But they’re walking the streets doing the job that Safer Neighbourhoods teams are meant to be doing. And if they want to respond to a call, they need to find a car to pick them up and take them there.

    Or catch a bus!

    And what happens at a Road Traffic Collision now? You see, you need one officer to direct traffic away from or safely around the scene. In the case of a serious collision you may need two, three or even four officers to conduct this task. Then you need an officer to deal with the people involved and provide first aid. You need another to locate and obtain details of as many witnesses as possible. And somebody has to report the collision.

    If I’m single-crewed, how many hats can I put on?

    With an operator in my car I can attend, assess and begin reporting while he directs traffic. He can use the radio and guide other services in. My full attention can be on the walking wounded and fatally injured. As it should be.

    This is a nonsense.

    Foot patrols shouldn’t be walking in pairs. That’s common sense.

    But the vehicle issue needs to be addressed. And urgently.

    My final thought…

    An officer gets shot in his vehicle in a drive-by incident. Six months ago he / she would have had an operator to provide first aid and radio for help. And before somebody says “How often does that happen?”, twice in the past year (fortunately no fatalities) and the danger is ever-present.

    Now? That officer will be discovered dead hours later. And that’s what it will take before the Met’s SMT reverse this ludicrous decision.

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