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Introduction and overview of single person patrols

Background to the literature review

On 9 July 2009, South Australian Police Brevet Sergeant Jeff Allen was stabbed by a parolee on the Barrier Highway near Yunta, South Australia. Brevet Sergeant Allen was working alone at the time of the incident. The event triggered a renewed interest in the safety of police officers working alone, particularly as working as a single person patrol is a common deployment option for SA police officers.

A motion was passed at the SA Police Association Conference on 21 October 2009 that directed the Association’s committee of management ‘to investigate the issue of solo patrols locally, nationally and internationally, and to report to delegates accordingly’ (PASA personal communication 4 November 2009). To put this in context, Western Australia is currently the only Australian policing jurisdiction to have banned single person patrols, with no frontline officers able to work alone, except for a select number of tasks agreed upon with WAPU. The issues associated with single person patrols were subsequently raised at the 21 June 2010 meeting of Australian Police Associations, where it was unanimously agreed that the matter should be investigated further.

To make informed decisions on single person patrols, PASA, together with the Police Federation of Australia (PFA), sought to examine current issues concerning first-response frontline deployment in relation to officers being deployed solo. Police often deal with potentially volatile situations (eg situations that involve heavily intoxicated individuals, people with mental health problems, or where there is domestic violence). These situations place officers at potential risk of considerable harm, particularly if they are deployed in single person patrols. Of particular concern to police associations is that policies on single person patrols appear to conflict with findings from coronial inquiries, for example where a police officer dies while working alone (eg see Parkinson 2010). The AIC was contracted by PASA to conduct a review of the current literature on single person patrols and to offer suggestions on potential areas for further research in the area.

Parameters of the review

In this report, a review is provided of the current evidence on single person patrols, including the decision-making processes used for developing policies and procedures. Instead of focusing on the relative costs and benefits of single and two person patrols, four specific research questions were investigated:

  • What are the challenges faced by first-response officers when performing their duties solo? Specifically, has the policing environment changed since solo policing was introduced?
  • What impact does working alone have on officers successfully performing their duties?
  • How are decisions made to deploy single person patrols?
  • Are single person patrol strategies in line with community expectations?

The AIC conducted an initial exploratory literature review of national and international research and policies on single person patrols and the associated risks. This included:

  • reviewing current OH&S policies in South Australia and other Australian jurisdictions;
    • collating information and recommendation from relevant inquests, legislation and other court documents regarding working alone;
  • reviewing current single person patrol policy documents;
  • reviewing current crime statistics and trends as they relate to solo policing;
  • identifying risks associated with policing people with mental health; and
  • searching national and international journals, books and online resources on the risks of police working alone.

The literature was gathered over a three month period between August 2010 and October 2010. Sources for the literature included databases available to the AIC, such as Cinch, Informit, AFPD and ProQuest. Key search terms used in combination included solo, patrol, first-response, risk, alone, single, officer, danger, one-up and complaints. A snowball technique was then employed to find further information on the topic, whereby more information was gathered by using relevant sources cited in the literature already found.

Due to the paucity of research available on the topic, particularly in the last 15 years, PFA contacted the eight police associations in Australia and 50 police association contacts from overseas requesting that they forward any relevant information about solo policing to the AIC. Upon completion of the first draft of the literature review, a decision was made by both PASA and the AIC to approach each Australian police agency to provide any additional information. Although this extended the delivery time of the report, it ensured that the report included a more comprehensive exploration of single person patrol practices, particularly within Australia. All Australian state and territory police organisations were approached for information via each jurisdiction’s police commissioner in June 2011. As ACT Policing is part of the Australian Federal Police, the request was sent only to the ACT Policing Commissioner.

The AIC also sent a query to all members of Australasian Libraries in the Emergency Services with a specific request to police libraries in each Australian jurisdiction for any available information on any material on single person patrols relating to their jurisdiction, in particular for any relevant policies and procedures on the issue. As a result, information obtained for this review comprised a selection of the following sources:

  • peer-reviewed journal articles;
  • opinion pieces from police association affiliated magazines;
  • correspondence
    • between police officers and police associations;
    • between police associations and police organisations;
  • coronial inquests;
  • internal police policy memos/documents
  • news articles; and
  • court transcripts from Austlii databases.

Due to the diversity of information sources, where possible the AIC has been careful to acknowledge the source of the information (in particular if the author(s) have any affiliation with an affected organisation or group) and whether the information provided is based on research or their own opinion or experiences.

Defining single person patrols

Police officers working alone in the course of their duties can be defined differently, depending on the policing jurisdiction and/or literature source. A patrol, as defined by Western Australia Police (2008: 168) is

any foot, mounted or vehicular official duties in which members are deployed to conduct target observations of areas, respond to complaints or perform other tasks for which it can be reasonably expected that those duties may require members to apply or respond by the use of force.

The term single person patrols will be used throughout this report. However, terms used in research to describe police officers working alone include solo policing, single person patrols, one unit policing and one-up patrols. Where appropriate, these terms have been replaced with single person patrols throughout the report for consistency, however, it is recognised that the definitions may vary among the different research conducted.

Limitations of the literature review

There are several limitations that may affect the literature review, some of which have already been addressed above. As many of the current policies are not available from public sources, it was difficult to capture the true nature of single person patrol policies in each jurisdiction and in some cases, the researchers were unable to obtain detailed information on these policies from some Australian jurisdictions. In addition, in some circumstances the researchers could not confirm the current applicability of the policies located. As a result, the information provided offers only a fragmented overview of single person patrol policies in Australia, especially since at least three jurisdictions are in the process of reviewing their current policies.

Most of the information on single person patrols is from research and documents often 20 years old, with only a small amount of research conducted after this time. This problem is compounded by the limited research conducted in Australia. Many studies used in this review are from the United States or the United Kingdom. As such, some of the research findings may not be entirely applicable to the Australian context, nor indeed reflect findings applicable to current Australian police practices or policing environment. Where possible, the origin and/or the source are highlighted to allow for consideration of these factors, especially if international findings may conflict with similar studies in Australia.

Many of the issues raised in relation to each research question, particularly issues surrounding the changing police environment and community expectations of police, are complex and would be worthy of separate investigations. The issues in each question are given a broad overview, although it is recognised that what is raised is only a general summary of the key points.

Structure of the literature review

The literature review is divided into four sections based on the key research questions. The first section addresses the challenges faced by first-response officers when performing their duties alone, more specifically examining if the policing environment has changed since single person patrols were introduced. The second section examines the impact that working alone has on officers successfully performing their duties. The third section addresses how decisions are made when deciding to deploy single person patrols and the fourth section addresses whether single person patrol strategies are in line with community expectations. It is important to note that the questions are interrelated and therefore should not be viewed as mutually exclusive issues. Where information examined in the literature could answer more than one research question, it was addressed in one section thoroughly and then referred to where applicable.