Directed Patrol in Criminology: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Jesse Davis

Jesse has worked in law enforcement for over 10 years in various capacities including patrol and investigations. For five years, his duties included instruction to area schools. He has a Bachelors Degree in Psychology.

Directed patrol is a tactic used by law enforcement agencies to try to reduce or stop crime in specific or problematic areas. This lesson is an overview of that topic.

Directed Patrol in Criminology

There's a frustration that comes with living in areas that have high crime rates. Seeing the results of crime can leave one feeling unsafe and afraid. Even typically low crime areas can have specific problems, such as a neighbor who is dealing drugs out of their house.

Law enforcement officers investigating after a crime occurred.
crime scene investigation

Oftentimes, we complain that there's never a police officer around when one is needed. But while police officers throughout the United States have the duty to enforce the law, they simply cannot be everywhere at once. This is why it's important for the public to provide information to local law enforcement agencies about concerns they have, so the police can focus on those areas and attempt to reduce or eradicate the problem. The data created from this information assists police in further identifying problem areas or trends.

This tactic of focusing on specific areas of crime is called directed patrol. In this lesson, we'll talk about the definition of directed patrol and provide a brief overview of the subject.

Directed Patrol Definition

Directed patrol is a tactic used by law enforcement officers to try to prevent crime before it happens, from running traffic enforcement on a street where speeding is a concern to keeping surveillance on a house in a neighborhood where drugs deals are occurring to paying close attention to any other public safety issue. The areas that are focused on may come from a statistical analysis, which identifies problem areas based on calls for service or officer-initiated investigations. Directed patrol is a proactive form of policing, unlike reactive patrol, where law enforcement responds to a crime as the result of a complaint by a citizen or a call to 911.

Police officers patrolling by foot.
Police patrol

For example, let's say an officer responds to a citizen who is reporting a wall that was tagged with graffiti. The officer is reacting to something that already happened, or reactive patrol. However, a gang task force, who may set up in an area with high gang activity and serve search or arrest warrants or conduct surveillance on drug sales while making arrests based on what they observe, would be a form of directed patrol.

Two major studies have been done regarding the effectiveness of directed patrol: the Kansas study and the Indianapolis study.

Kansas Study

In the early 1990s, Kansas City police created one of the first directed patrol programs. Through computer analysis, they determined which areas had higher rates of gun violence. They then increased traffic enforcement in those high crime areas. As a result of their efforts, they seized approximately 65% more illegally possessed firearms than through normal means. They also saw gun crimes reduced by about half when compared to the same time frame preceding the directed patrol initiative. Interestingly, during the directed patrol program, gun crime did not increase in surrounding areas either.

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