Police Patrol Officer: Purpose, Tasks & Methods

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  • 0:01 Police Patrol Officer
  • 0:46 Duties of the Patrol Officer
  • 2:26 Methods of Police Patrolling
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

For most of us, when we think of the police, we think of patrol officers because these are the law enforcement employees we have the most contact with. In this lesson, explore the duties and methods of patrol policing, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Police Patrol Officer

This looks like a very nice neighborhood. It's clean, the people are happy, and it seems pretty safe. Why does it seem so safe? Well, the police here are just great at their jobs. Here's one now - this is Officer Jane Study. She's a patrol officer, which means that she is a law enforcement official assigned to a specific area. Patrol officers are the members of the police department with whom the average citizen has the most frequent contact. If you picture a police officer, this is probably who you're picturing. So, let's tag along with Officer Study here and see for ourselves what the job entails.

Duties of the Patrol Officer

Within her beat, the geographical area she's assigned, Officer Study is responsible for all basic police work. First and foremost, as a patrol officer, she spends her time patrolling. This means that she, and likely her partner, survey the neighborhood looking for signs of trouble, helping community members who need assistance, and responding to calls.

Here, the station received a report that someone's house was broken into. Officer Study responds by going directly to the scene, and begins the investigation by talking to the homeowners and other witnesses and creating a report on the incident. While much of the investigation will be handled by detectives, the way that Officer Study begins to process the scene dramatically impacts the results.

As a patrol officer, Officer Study does, of course, also have the power to make arrests. If she witnesses a crime in progress or encounters somebody with a warrant out for their arrest, she has the authority to apprehend them. This is easier said than done. Apprehending suspects requires balancing the needs of public safety with the rights of the suspect.

Don't forget, until found guilty by a court of law this person is still presumed innocent, and how Officer Study conducts the arrest is important. Generally, use of force is discouraged unless otherwise unavoidable. Also, Officer Study must make the suspect aware of their rights to refuse to speak and to have an attorney. We call this the Miranda warning; I'm sure you've heard it before.

Methods of Police Patrolling

So, that's what an average day looks like for Officer Study. But, is there a proper way to do this? The most effective method of police patrol is something that has been a source of debate for quite a while. Throughout much of the 20th century, officers patrolled primarily in their cars, as a way to demonstrate that they were separate from the community. However, studies found that foot patrols were actually much more effective. Not only did the visible presence of police help to reduce crime, but the relationships between police and community members increased as well because the police were actually talking to people they met on the street.

Although many American neighborhoods are still relatively spread out, making walking difficult, where this policy has really made a difference is in major urban centers. Walking, or occasionally mounted officers on horseback, are a much more common feature of big cities now, making officers much more visible.

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