The Newark Foot Patrol Experiment
The results of this experiment suggest that while foot patrol may not reduce crime, it reduces citizen fear of crime. Residents see their communities as safer and better places to live, and are more satisfied with police services.
In a country besieged by criminal activity related to the burgeoning illicit drug trade, police departments across the country are confronted by a difficult challenge–how to do more with less. While fiscal constraints force departments to cut back their service, crime rates and citizen demands for service continue to increase. Police departments must find more cost-efficient and productive ways to do their job.
One service frequently demanded by citizens is foot patrol. They often associate foot patrol with the "good old days" when crime rates were low and they felt perfectly safe in their neighborhoods. Most citizens like frequent, close contact with the police; they may feel more secure when officers are visible and on the street.
But for years, police departments rejected foot patrol as antiquated, expensive, and irrelevant to contemporary policing. In most cities, it was not an integral part of police patrol strategy. It carried low status among officers, was often regarded as a "public relations" activity, and was frequently used to punish poor performance.
In 1973, the New Jersey state legislature passed the Safe and Clean Neighborhoods Act. Unique in the nation and aptly named, this legislation sought to create safe, clean neighborhoods. Foot patrol was specifically mandated as part of an effort to expand the presence and visibility of police protection.
At the invitation of the Governor of New Jersey, the Police Foundation evaluated foot patrol in 28 New Jersey cities. Newark was selected as the primary evaluation site. The evaluation began in February 1978 and ended in January 1979.
The Police Foundation evaluation posed the following questions:
- Does foot patrol improve police-citizen relationships?
- Do citizens feel safer when officers patrol on foot?
- Does foot patrol reduce crime?
- Will citizens report more crime when they have closer contact with the police?
- Will more arrests be made in foot-patrolled areas?
- Will foot patrol officers be more satisfied with their jobs and have more positive attitudes about citizens?
- Will citizens’ fear of victimization be lessened?
Eight foot patrol beats in Newark were matched demographically. Foot patrol was continued in four randomly selected beats, and discontinued in four others. Foot patrol was also initiated in four beats where it had not previously been used.
Researchers then began comparing reported crime, arrest and victimization rates, citizen fear and satisfaction with police services, as well as the attitude of foot patrol officers and officers on motorized patrol.
The Police Foundation found that introducing foot patrol in a mix of police strategies significantly enhances the citizen’s perception of safety in the neighborhood. This is something no other police strategy had been able to do. Although introducing foot patrol seemed to have little effect on crime rates, it did have the following positive effects:
- Residents knew when officers were patrolling their neighborhoods on foot.
- Residents in areas patrolled by officers on foot thought that crime was less of a problem than did residents in areas with only motorized patrol.
- Residents in areas with foot patrol felt safer and less likely to be victimized.
- Residents living in areas with foot patrol took fewer steps to protect themselves against crime.
- Residents in areas with foot patrol were more satisfied with police services.
In sum, residents in areas in which foot patrol was introduced clearly changed their attitudes about crime and how they felt about the safety and livability of their neighborhoods. They also were more satisfied with police services.
While foot patrol had no effect on recorded crime rates, it should be remembered that citizens feel threatened by noncriminal (disorderly) behavior as well, and that this threat of victimization may dramatically alter their lives. In response to a perceived threat, they may, for instance, nail their windows shut, carry lethal weapons, or avoid walking in their own neighborhood. Thus, fear can undermine the viability of major cities and erode the quality of urban dwellers.
It should also be noted that close contact between police and the citizenry helps the former develop first-hand information about crime and possible criminal behavior. Such information systems are likely to have a positive long-term impact.