Police Patrolling Methods in the United States


Policing is a vital part of all organized societies. For a society to ensure that law and order are maintained among its citizens, police must show their presence among the subjects through regular patrols. For many years, many police departments have faced a similar problem: how to organize effective patrol routines that create law and order and ensure the safety of its forces. Studies have been undertaken to determine the best way to carry out patrol activities and crime deterrence approaches. However, another issue has arisen recently due to police patrols; ordinary citizens claim that police are more likely to ask for or to be offered bribes during patrols. Since police officers’ role is to maintain law and order, they should lead by example and the allegations of bribery during patrols are a drawback to the criminal judicial system, if true. Moreover, cases of bribery among the police are not likely to be investigated conclusively as the police cannot be expected to investigate themselves.

The most common methods of police patrol are outlined below:

Routine Patrol

A routine patrol is the most basic of all forms of patrol. This type of patrol can be undertaken in a variety of means, the most common of which is on foot. It is common to observe police walking in pairs or threes in residential areas, towns, social places such as showgrounds and camping sites, among several places. Other routine patrols are carried out on marked vehicles, motorbikes, horsebacks, helicopters in the air, and watercraft on waters. These patrols normally rely on the fact that the likelihood of a crime is reduced by the presence of security personnel either on foot or in marked vehicles. Incidences of bribery are not so common during routine patrols unless they react to a crime incident during the patrols.

Directed Patrol

Directed patrol is a selective security patrol undertaken in areas that have recently experienced a surge in criminal activities or a dangerous situation. For example, if a particular locality has experienced a surge in vandalism or armed robbery, the local police station to whose jurisdiction the locality falls will set up a directed patrol in the area. Patrols will be carried out by marked and unmarked police units. Such directed patrols will enable the law enforcement agents to determine the source of the situation and take appropriate steps to prevent any further problems. Not all directed patrols are as a response to criminal activities, for example, if a major road is undergoing repair and as a result has been turned to a one-way road or has narrowed, a directed patrol will be set up to guide motorists and prevent accidents (The Town of Merrimack, para. 1). Incidences of bribery are common in directed patrols as persons may have to bribe security agents to protect their interests or to respond to emergency calls in case of criminal activity.

Saturation Patrol

A saturation patrol is a kind of security measure in which a large number of police or other security agents are deployed into a small geographic area. Such deployments can be for a variety of reasons, for example, a large number of police officers may be used to clear persons off the streets after a soccer match to prevent rival fans from attacking each other (O’Connor, para. 10). Saturation patrols may also be used in crime hot spots to track down criminals or reduce criminal activities. The system employs a strong force presence through a large concentration of security personnel to create a genuine or apparent omnipresence, in the hope that it deters criminal acts within and outside the patrol area (Sherman et al, Chapt. 8). Cases of bribery are limited in this form of police patrol.

Suspect Oriented Patrol

This is a form of the patrol that involves walking along the streets or in residential areas in search of a suspect who corresponds to the description given earlier. The method works best when a precise description is given, possibly through a photograph of the offender and other characteristics such as facial features (mustache, sideburn, and thick lips), height, and build. Once a police officer comes across a person who resembles the descriptions, he requests for identification and compares it against the person with the description he has. He may ask the person to accompany him to the station for further identification/questioning when the person matches the descriptions (Bruce, pp. 4). Cases of bribery are rare in this type of patrol, except in situations where the suspects bribe police officers to let them go scot-free, however, such occurrences are rare.

Other Methods of Patrol

Other methods of the patrol are used in specific countries in special situations. For example, an aggressive patrol, also known as crackdown is implemented in an area where a serious crime has occurred and the suspect is on the loose, such as a jailbreak, homicide, or armed robbery. A crackdown generally causes dissatisfaction among people in the area targeted and is usually short-lived (O’Connor, para. 1). Another form of patrol is hi-intensity patrol. This is a controversial method in which an unmarked officer walks into a pub, observes drunken persons leaving the bar, then radios his fellow officer with the description of the drunk person waiting down the road to arrest them for driving under influence of alcohol (DUI). These patrol methods have relatively low incidences of bribery.

Generally, the frequency of bribery during police patrols is quite low as compared to other activities such as those who work at the customs offices and therefore is not a threat to the criminal justice system.


Bruce, Christopher W. Police Strategies and Tactics: What every analyst should know. 2008. Web.

O’Connor, Tom. Patrol Strategies. No date. Web.

Sherman, Lawrence W., et al. Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn’t, What’s Promising. Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Maryland, College Park, 2006.

The Town of Merrimack. Directed Patrol. 2008. Web.

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