Cops as Treatment Providers

Using 60 small foot beat areas in Philadelphia, this study assesses the ways in which foot patrol officers’ roles are executed and negotiated in neighborhoods.

To address inner-city crime and violence, foot patrol police officers can be considered treatment providers. This study assesses the role of foot patrol officers and the ways in which their roles are executed and negotiated in neighborhoods.

This ethnographic qualitative study was conducted in Philadelphia, where violence is a serious public health problem. “Rookie” Philadelphia police officers were assigned as pairs to 60 small foot beat areas. Four graduate student field researchers conducted field observation of the foot patrol officers. Each foot beat was observed four times—two observations of the day shift and two of the night shift. Field researchers recorded notes during observation and more fully after observation.

Key Findings:

  • Foot patrol officers developed place-based knowledge that helped them assess happenings and interactions in neighborhoods.
  • Local knowledge of a neighborhood allowed foot patrol officers to make “situated judgments” about what tactics to use in different situations.
  • Ironically, operating within a beat allowed neighborhood residents to keep an eye on police, knowing when officers could be expected to show up.
  • Some officers felt foot patrol work falls short of true police work.

While foot patrol work can be considered a true craft, this focused intervention may offer promise in addressing inner-city violence. The experience of line officers should be considered in the creation of neighborhood interventions.

One can only do good work by 'being there' and getting to know the relationship between people and the spaces in which they live, work and play."  —Jennifer Wood, et al.