I’ve always felt that there was nothing more impressive than a squared-away patrol officer.
There are many misconceptions that thrive within the law enforcement community but one of the most common I’ve observed is the belief that patrol officers are limited to certain tasks due to the fact that they are assigned to patrol. Uniformed patrol officers have many more opportunities to do good police work than they sometimes realize. They really are the first responders to most crime scenes, not the investigators or detectives who will do most of the follow-up investigations on serious crimes.
Street cops are out there performing patrol duties every shift they work, so here’s my message to the officers on patrol: Take advantage of the opportunities you have to talk to the people in your area of responsibility and learn to develop the right approaches to develop good street information.
All detectives and investigators started out in uniformed patrol. Just because they are now investigators doesn’t make their jobs more important than yours. In many situations, you have the advantage over the investigators because you will often have a better understanding of the crime problems that are occurring in your patrol area. You should have a good handle on where the bad guys usually congregate in your patrol area.
If you’re doing your job right you should also have better street contacts to reach out to for information and intelligence. Take advantage of the contacts that you make every shift that you work. Almost all criminals use vehicles to get around. Whether it’s a dope dealer, a burglar, auto thief, or gang-banger, they usually get around by driving or riding in a car. Patrol officers are making traffic stops every shift they work. Take advantage of the opportunities that are out there. I really believe there is no such thing as a routine traffic stop. Take advantage of the power of discretion that is afforded you in your daily patrol duties. You make the call whether to issue a ticket, a warning citation or a verbal warning during any stop you make. Look beyond the traffic stop and try to develop information on other crimes that are occurring in your area of responsibility.
There is a misconception by some law enforcement professionals that traffic stops don’t constitute real police work. This mindset could not be further from the truth. Over the years, thousands of patrol officers have made outstanding felony arrests from what started out as a routine traffic stop.
Many traffic stops have led to major cases and arrests because the patrol officer was looking for something more than issuing a traffic ticket. Don’t get me wrong, traffic patrol is an extremely important function of law enforcement, but it can (and often does) result in solving some pretty serious crimes that have taken place. It’s a well known fact that more arrests are made from traffic stops than any type of undercover operation.
A prime example of the importance of traffic violation stops is the arrest of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber who used a truck bomb to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. This bombing killed 168 people and wounded more than 500 others. A traffic stop by Oklahoma State trooper Charlie Hanger on McVeigh’s vehicle for no license plate led to the arrest and eventual execution of this madman.
I know that when working patrol, you are sometimes limited in what you can accomplish on the street. I also know that opportunities do exist that should be taken advantage of by patrol officers. When I worked in patrol as a young cop in Chicago, I was often assigned to shooting incidents where it was my responsibility to protect the crime scene and provide traffic control. That was part of my patrol duties, but after the scene was processed and the detectives left the area, I became proactive in my efforts to help solve the case. I had people in the neighborhood who I interacted with on a regular basis. I would talk to them and try to develop information on the case — many times this led to information that helped solve the crime.
As a young patrol officer I learned the value of having business cards to pass out to people in my area of responsibility. I got tired of writing down my contact information on the back of a match book cover. If you stay connected with the people in your patrol area, both the criminal element and the legit people, you will be able to develop good information to help solve the crimes that are occurring in your area of responsibility.
I know from personal experience that taking that extra step to do good police work pays off. One of my proudest accomplishments in my career as a police officer is the fact that I was meritoriously promoted to Gang Detective. The Chicago Police Department has approximately 13,500 officers, which makes it the second largest police department in the U.S. Every time the department gave a detectives test, thousands of patrol officers would apply and take the test — the competition was intense.
If it we’re up to my testing skills I would probably have never been promoted, but because I worked hard and did work beyond my patrol duties, I was recommended for, and promoted to the rank of Gang Detective. I know that if I could get noticed and meritoriously promoted, you can too.
Always be proactive and professional. It will help you stand out from the rest of the officers in your agency.
Stay safe and enjoy the job!