Preventive Patrol: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

This lesson will define the concept of preventive patrol and how it is different from community policing. Examples of preventive patrol practices and an analysis of the Kansas City preventive patrol experiment will be provided.

What Is Preventive Patrol?

Imagine that a rash of home burglaries is taking place in your neighborhood. The majority of residents, including yourself, are very uneasy about the increase in crime and fear for the safety of their families. There is tremendous pressure on the local police department to take action. At the neighborhood watch meeting, the chief of police mentions instituting preventive patrols.

Preventive patrol is a term used in law enforcement for police patrols that are intended to deter crime by being proactive in nature. It is an attempt by law enforcement to eliminate opportunities for the commission of crimes.

Preventive Patrol Objectives

There are five primary objectives for preventive patrols:

  1. Deter the commission of crimes
  2. Apprehend criminal offenders
  3. Satisfy the public's demands for police presence
  4. Establish a positive relationship between police and citizens
  5. Locate and recover stolen property

Preventive patrols increase the visibility of a police presence. It is theorized that this presence would deter people from committing crimes while easing the fears of citizens who live in the targeted area. Going back to our earlier example, preventive patrols would be assumed to deter those who are burglarizing homes and therefore decrease the number of home burglaries while simultaneously allowing neighborhood residents to feel more secure.

Effectiveness of Preventive Patrols

The effectiveness of preventive patrol measures continues to be the topic of debate amongst community law enforcement agencies. While some argue they are effective, others cite a preventive patrol experiment conducted in Kansas City as evidence that they don't have the effectiveness some perceive.

The Kansas City Preventive Patrol Experiment

The Kansas City preventive patrol experiment was an experiment conducted by the Kansas City Police Department in 1972 and 1973 with the intent of gauging the effectiveness of preventive patrols. The experiment involved 15 police beats, 5 of which were deemed reactive (only having a police presence when called upon), 5 of which were proactive (having a marked police presence), and 5 of which didn't change anything (control group). The experiment looked at the following questions:

  • Would residents notice an increased police presence?
  • Would more police presence affect the number of crimes?
  • Would citizens feel more secure?
  • Would the initiative increase satisfaction with law enforcement services?

The results of the experiment were rather surprising. Although it was speculated that this preventive patrol experiment would have positive results, the findings did not support this speculation. The findings included:

  • Increased police presence had very little impact on the commission of crimes and the feeling of security for residents.
  • Targeted police patrol practices were no more effective than preventive ones.
  • Preventive patrols had no impact on increasing satisfaction with law enforcement services.

The findings of this research study indicate that preventive patrols don't have the impact that they are intended to have, particularly on crime rates and the perceived safety of citizens.

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