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How are decisions made when deciding to deploy single person patrols?

In 1990, single person patrols were identified as a patrol option available in all Australian police organisations, in addition to a large number of American jurisdictions (Wilson & Brewer 1991a). The extent of this operational practice has differed dramatically between locations and shifts. Identified variables have been used in an informal manner to determine the circumstances that single person patrols would be deployed in and these have included time of day, population density and rated risk of the tasking (Wilson & Brewer 1991a).

With the exception of Prunckun (1989), who examined the patrol deployment practices within all Australian forces, prior to 1990 there was limited research available to examine the efficacy of solo deployment practices in Australia. According to Prunckun (cited in Wilson 1991), the Australian Federal Police reported deploying single person patrols in daylight hours and two person patrols at night when the risk was considered greater. This decision was based on operational knowledge, rather than on empirical data. Queensland Police reported the policy was to maintain two person patrols, although there was flexibility to allow for single person patrols on the basis of manpower or other organisational considerations. NT Police reported a similar policy, with single person patrols deployed only to tasks considered low risk. The WA Police reported using single person patrols on functions considered to be low risk by the appropriate regional or divisional officer or officer in charge of a branch, section, station or squad. Three person patrols concentrated on high-risk assignments and ‘trouble spots’. Single person patrols were reported to be used for traffic and in low-risk functions (Prunckun1989).

At the time of Prunckun’s 1989 review, WA Police reported that they employed two person patrols in the following high-risk functions—mobile patrol of capital area, suburban night patrol, metropolitan plain clothes patrol, highway patrol, heavy haulages and foot patrols in inner city Perth. Victoria Police adopted a policy of assigning two person patrols to high-risk patrols, while single person patrols were assigned to tasks that were considered low risk. However, what constituted low and high-risk patrols was not explained in the available literature. The general policy also assigned officers to work in pairs during hours of darkness and in pairs during daylight hours where resources permitted this (Prunckun 1989). After an examination of the assignment of patrol modes, Prunckun (1989) recommended that SAPOL adopt single person patrols in low-risk patrol functions, with these exact functions being determined by a risk analysis model. It must be noted that this review is now more than two decades old and a more recent overview of current single person patrols nationally could not be located.

Currently, most jurisdictions have informal practices implemented on a case-by-case basis, but others have specific policies such as Western Australia and New South Wales (Association News 2007). For example, in Western Australia, all operational officers are now required to work in teams of at least two, even in outstations (WAPOL 2008).

In the early 1990s, single person patrols were routinely deployed to tasking classified as ‘low risk’ (Wilson 1991). Activities defined as ‘low risk’ were generally those in which there was either no offender involved or no offender contact at all (Wilson 1991). Limited evidence existed to show these task ratings were based on systematic investigations. Instead, these taskings were more likely to be based on a consensus arising from knowledge and experience of operational policing; with much of the responsibility of deployment of single person patrols relying on the dispatching personnel (Wilson 1991). Furthermore, the nature and extent of operational guidelines relating to single person patrols varied widely from force to force and the extent of deployment is substantially affected by constraints on manpower (Wilson 1991). Certain conditions to determine when one person police cars were tasked included:

  • time of day (increased use of single person patrols during daylight hours);
  • population density (more densely populated districts or where barriers to travel were prevalent, employed fewer single person patrols); and
  • risk involved in individual taskings which are typically broken down into ‘low’ and ‘high’ risk activities (Wilson 1991).

As already outlined, another consideration is that the nature of police work is unpredictable. Routine tasks, or tasks rated as ‘low risk’, can prove life-threatening, especially when officers deal with individuals affected by alcohol, drugs, and/or suffering from mental illness (Prenzler 2010). In Queensland, an in-depth case study was conducted on the findings of an inquest into the 2007 death of Constable Brett Irwin who was shot while executing a warrant at 10.30 pm to a known violent offender (Prenzler 2010). Constable Irwin was executing the warrant as part of a two person patrol. During the Inquest, police testified that warrants were commonly executed during the night ‘without any adverse consequences’ (Office of the State Coroner cited in Prenzler 2010: 427). This practice was not supported by the Coroner, who indicated it could be a result of ‘risk normalisation’, where risky (or potentially risky) activities can become normalised as not threatening. This could result in complacency (Office of the State Coroner in Prenzler 2010).

After reviewing the circumstances surrounding Constable Irwin’s death in the Inquest report, Prenzler (2010: 10) concluded:

the key general lesson is that in many locations police need to take a far more cautious approach to their work, including with tasks that are often considered routine and which may be completed many thousands of times without harmful consequences

This study highlighted that risks are present for both single and two person patrols, even for routine activities not usually considered a high risk. Although not specifically related to single person patrols, this conclusion has implications for decision-making processes surrounding their deployment. For example, as the second section illustrated, most findings from single person patrol research that support the practice in certain circumstances rely on the infrequency of safety issues occurring on low-risk/routine activities to continue the practice.

Overall, the available literature on current single person patrol policies is piecemeal and was unavailable for most jurisdictions. In many cases, it was unclear if the information available related to current policies and therefore was still relevant. In addition, many of the tasks are often at the discretion of the dispatcher to assess whether a task should be deployed as a single patrol. However, there was little information available on how dispatchers are trained to make such decisions and few studies exist that explore how accurate assessments are in relation to risk after the introduction of the single person patrol policy. To try to overcome these limitations, information provided from the different police jurisdictions as part of the AIC request was used to update the available information on the different single person patrol policies in Australia. A summary of this information is provided below for each jurisdiction.

South Australia

As mentioned above, in 1989 it was recommended that SAPOL adopt single person patrols in low-risk functions, based on a risk management strategy. It is unclear how this recommendation was enacted; however, in 2010 SAPOL proposed a new ‘demand management’ strategy to manage public requests for police services (SAPOL 2010b). This strategy, which at the time of writing had yet to be implemented, is also based on a risk management approach.

In short, the demand management strategy focuses on three different areas—call management, front station and patrol deployment. Of particular relevance to single person patrols are the recommendations to changes in call grading and development of a dedicated Police Service Desk (PSD), which affect both the call management and patrol deployment areas. To develop the model, SAPOL undertook an analysis of the nature and extent of incidences across South Australia and compared the current priority rating allocated with the grade that could be allocated, based on a proposed new method of grading calls (SAPOL 2010b). The main concern raised in the report was that many patrol taskings are incorrectly graded as emergencies (SAPOL 2010b). Four call grades were proposed (see below) and each grade has the potential for single person patrol deployment. In general, single person patrols are used as support to the primary two person patrols deployed. Each grading is risk assessed and resources allocated appropriately to best meet community needs.

Grade 1—emergency that requires immediate time critical police attendance (0–15 mins). These make up approximately seven percent of incidents police are called to (SAPOL 2010b: np).

Grade 2—prompt response required, with a degree of urgency or importance linked to initial attendance (0–30 mins). These make up approximately 58 percent of incidents police are called to.

Grade 3—police attendance required with needs met through managed police response (0–24 hour service level). These make up approximately 29 percent of incidents police are called to.

Grade 4—Advice or information most likely response so patrol attendance is not required. These make up approximately six percent of incidents police are called to (SAPOL 2010b: np).

Table 1 summarises the types of offences that characterise each callout grade. Overall, the demand management framework proposes that the single person patrol perform the duties of a ‘one stop shop’ of ‘end to end service for the customer’ (SAPOL 2010b: np). Duties are those required of an operational patrol officer and if a single patrol officer is on duty and available they can be used as a follow up dispatch vehicle for incidences within their scope of experience. Specified duties of single person patrols are identified as:

  • attending report type offences;
  • providing victim support and assistance;
  • commencing initial assessments and investigations;
  • interviewing witnesses and considering solvability factors; and
  • completing typing, attending court and conducting follow-up enquiries (SAPOL 2010b: np).

Overall, it was determined that during any rostered shift, individual officers could be deployed either in one or two person patrols once factors such as experience and skill level has been assessed by the patrol supervisor (SAPOL 2010b). There is no indication of how dispatchers or patrol supervisors are trained to make assessments in dispatching single person patrols beyond the grading levels. This does not necessarily mean that such guidelines or training do not exist, only that the researchers were unable to locate any such training material for the purposes of this report.

The opportunity for SAPOL staff to provide feedback on the proposed strategy was available until 26 April 2010, but this feedback was not available for this report. As such, it is difficult to gauge how this new structure has been received by SAPOL officers or the community. Anecdotally, concerns have been raised by PASA on behalf of members. For example, a newspaper reported on 22 July 2010 that a SA police officer had been threatened with a gun while working alone. This prompted a reaction from a number of readers, who wrote to the paper outlining their concerns about single person patrols, including their desire to have them abolished (Robertson & Kyriacou 2010).

Table 1: Proposed appropriate tasks for each call grading level for South Australia Police
Grade 1 Grade 2 Grade 3 Grade 4

Danger of life

Use or immediate threat of use of violence

Serious harm to a person

Serious damage to property including animals

For allegations of criminal misconduct:

The crime is or is likely to be serious and in progress

Offender has been disturbed at the scene of a serious crime and reasonable prospect that offender would be apprehended by immediate police response

Offender detained and poses (or likely to pose) a risk to other persons

For vehicle collisions:

Likelihood of serious injury to anyone and no medical assistance currently provided

Road/traffic obstruction exists that could result in serious danger to other road users

Risk to welfare of human or animal

Likelihood of continued risk to the security of property

Likelihood of detection, prevention or apprehension in relation to a crime

Offender detained but not violent

Road collision where minor injury or serious road obstruction exists

Serious crime and risk that vital evidence may be lost or destroyed

Suspicious activity not involving a threat to any person

Distressed informant/victim

Sudden deaths

Assisting at-risk individuals that may include but not limited to:

Elderly, frail or very young

Physical or mental health impairment

Of another race and find themselves in difficult circumstances

Known VIP or person at risk (eg domestic violence victim

Disturbance where police required to standby and prevent immediate breach of peace

Attendance time not critical to apprehending offender

Crime has been committed and police required according to SAPOL policy

A higher level of service can be provided by a pre-arranged police response time

Caller only requires advice or information

Source: SAPOL 2010b

New South Wales

At the time of writing, the NSW Police Force is also engaging in a review of the deployment of first-response officers in single person patrols. As the review is ongoing, information on their policy is not currently available. From available literature, New South Wales developed a Single Unit Policing policy and guidelines in 1993, although these have been updated at least once since that time (Association News 2007).

Single person patrols were trialled in urban Sydney areas in 1993, with one study (Gibson 1995) reporting increased job satisfaction and personal confidence among officers who were working solo. As such, single person patrols during daylight hours have been an option for NSW commanders since 1995. This option can be given to officers based on discretion and an assessment of suitability, including an assessment of current station capabilities (Gibson 1995).

Single person patrols can be implemented following consultation between Local Area Commander and Police Association officials, and taking into consideration high-risk areas, radio communication black spots and minimum staffing provisions of the guidelines. Single person patrols can only be deployed during daylight hours and only appropriate officers are to be deployed. The determination of appropriate officers is based on maturity, ability, judgement, communication skills and capacity to respond to taskings (Gibson 1995). The policy also provides a list of tasks that cannot be undertaken by single person patrols. Table 2 illustrates the types of tasks that are considered suitable or unsuitable for single person patrols.

However, at present, there is no further research available on the adoption of this option across other NSW local area commands and whether it produced similar results to the pilot study.

Table 2: Tasks considered suitable and unsuitable for single person patrols in New South Wales
Suitable tasks Unsuitable tasks
  • juveniles in shopping complex
  • complaints regarding excessive noise
  • barking/savage dog and property damage
  • traffic violation/accident
  • shoplifting or fraud incident
  • person loitering
  • missing person report
  • chemical/gas spill
  • burglar alarm sounding
  • bomb threat
  • sexual assault
  • injured animal on road
  • brawls
  • crowds assembled in hotel car parks
  • detaining intoxicated persons
  • assisting to remove a trespasser
  • mentally ill person
  • domestic argument
  • conveying prisoners to hospital
  • assault in street
  • motor vehicle theft in progress
  • incident-shots fired
  • burglary in progress
  • armed hold-up in progress
  • transferring prisoners between institutions

Source: Association News 2007; Gibson 1995

Western Australia

Single person patrols are no longer an available option for WA Police officers and there are no longer single person police stations in Western Australia. The current policy states that ‘…throughout Western Australia members are not to be rostered, directed or encouraged to work alone’ (WAPOL 2008: 169). Many of the concerns regarding officer safety were primarily (although not exclusively) related to officers working alone in country stations (eg see Western Australian Police Union of Workers v The Hon. Minister for Police (2001), WAIRC 02216).

Historically, WA’s policy on single unit policing titled Police Officer’s Safety was established in 1984 as a result of a number of instances of assaults on officers working alone in regional areas. The issue was heard by the WA Industrial Relations Commission (WAIRC), which subsequently recommended that if an officer did patrol solo, especially at night, back-up should be made available by management (Armstrong 2010). In 2001, the deployment of single person patrols was raised by Western Australia Police Union of Workers (WAPU) members working in single person stations, particularly in relation to WA Police’s duty of care to officer safety and welfare. WAPU applied to WAIRC on behalf of its members pursuant to s 44 of the Industrial Relations Act 1979 (see Western Australian Police Union of Workers v The Hon. Minister for Police 2001). Although the case was dismissed, WAIRC recommended that there should be continued auditing conducted by middle level managers to ensure officers working in single police stations were properly supported and supervised (Western Australian Police Union of Workers v The Hon. Minister for Police 2001).

In 2003, WA Police officer duties were included under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 and after this, WAPU applied pressure on the WA Police and state government to develop a single person patrol policy (Armstrong 2010). In 2006, the issue of single person patrols was again highlighted when Sergeant Shane Gray was assaulted by a dangerous fugitive while patrolling alone. Sergeant Shane Gray was seriously injured, but survived the attack after fatally shooting the attacker in the chest (Armstrong 2010).

As a result of this attack and the highly publicised Inquest into the death of William John Watkins (Sergeant Gray’s assailant), the policy was updated and renamed Single Officer Patrols. The policy stated that

in regional Western Australia members are not encouraged nor expected to patrol alone when they are travelling more than 10 kilometres from a town or town site either during the day or at night. In addition, members are not encouraged nor expected to patrol alone after hours of darkness anywhere in Western Australia (Hope 2009: 17).

The coroner for the inquest into Sergeant Gray’s assailant recommended that WAPU and WA Police collaborate to restrict the use of single person patrols to instances where circumstances required officers to work alone and the need to use force was extremely unlikely (Hope 2009).

In 2008, WAPU and WA Police agreed on a single person patrol policy where members could not be directed or rostered to patrol alone. The policy was formally introduced on 9 April 2008 via the WA Police Manual, Policy # PA-1.2.2 Single Officer Patrols (WAPOL 2008). The WA Police rely on Regulation 3.3 of the WA Occupational Safety and Health Regulations to provide guidance regarding a safe work place for employees. This regulation requires the employer to provide reliable means of communication for isolated employees (ie those working alone). As the current WA Police communications and phone system cannot provide reliable means of communication for isolated employees, single person patrols would have been unable to comply with this regulation and therefore was another catalyst for the ban (WAPU representative personal communication 23 November 2011).

This policy was the first of its kind in Australia and as a result, there are no single officer police stations in the state (Armstrong 2010). Although WA Police has banned single person patrols, WA Police together with WAPU identified 24 duties (not patrols) that can be performed by solo officers. These duties primarily relate to crime prevention, community policing and administrative activities (see Table 3).

Table 3: Duties that can be performed by a single officer
Administration runs (ie mail taking items for repair, collecting stores) Prosecutors travelling to court Police witnesses attending court
Witness, complaint statements/summons Community policing PCYC duties
Duties associated with internal investigations Cold crime scene attendance by District Field Intelligence Officer Commuting to and from work in a police vehicle
Conveyance of drugs and property in the metro area Conveying for service or repairs Purchasing
Crime administration Juvenile justice and crime prevention Inspectors conducting Hub meetings and station visits
OIC travelling to/from appointments Training officer Low-risk post-crash investigations
Attending the mortuary Low-risk sudden death inquiries Roadside assistance re breakdown
Attending training Attending disciplinary hearings, interviews Visiting hospitals

Source: WA Police representative personal communication 2010

Currently, all WA police stations should be staffed by a minimum of two officers. If the station has only two officers, the officers are encouraged to take annual leave together. If this occurs, the station will be closed for the duration of the leave period and a neighbouring station will attend any calls to that area if necessary. However, if the officers are unable to take leave concurrently then a relief will be provided. If a relief is not available, the remaining officer is detailed to police the subdistrict with an officer from a neighbouring station, but patrolling alone is not allowed (WAPU representative personal communication 23 November 2011).

Since the policy’s introduction, there have been a few cases where officers have been left to work alone in remote areas (WA Police representative personal communication 9 June 2008). Both WAPU and management have since liaised to address this; however, the overall policy has yet to be evaluated for its effectiveness.


Currently, Victoria Police allows officers who perform traffic duties to work alone. In 2005–06, Victoria Police undertook a review of single person patrols for traffic duties and concluded that when assessing risks to officers, the type of duty performed was a more important consideration than mode of patrol (Hasting 2007). There was also a preference among officers for flexibility to work either by themselves or as part of a two person patrol, depending on whether the duty was deemed safe via a risk assessment. The review included an examination of Victoria Police data, a literature review and a number of focus groups and forums with police personnel. The review identified an increased likelihood of rostering two person patrols during night and single person patrols during daytime hours in Victoria (Hastings 2007). Generally, preference for two person traffic duty patrols occurred during night-time hours and has been ascribed to three factors:

  • Night-time is generally associated with higher alcohol consumption. This leads to a preference for two-up policing as alcohol is indicated as a causal factor for violence. Also, officers frequently stated that when they obtained a positive preliminary breath test and had to take the motorist back for an evidentiary breath test they were vulnerable as the motorist could not be handcuffed and the officer must focus on driving and not restraining the motorist if they become aggressive. They are also more vulnerable to resistance when the motorist is out of the car.
  • The increased likelihood of surveillance (more witnesses), assisted by greater visibility, acts as a deterrent for violent acts. At night-time, the lack of visibility and fewer witnesses minimises the deterrent effect.
  • During night-time hours there are fewer patrols, which underscores the need for greater partner backup.

In addition, Hastings (2007) discussed the nature of duties to be performed. Drink driving enforcement, as well as attending a collision, were noted as duties requiring two officers. In the case of drink driving, two person patrols were preferred due to the likelihood of the motorist having to leave their car and the vulnerability to resistance if the officer was alone. Collision scene investigations require two officers as the circumstances can be unsafe for one officer to carry out investigations that are reliant on road conditions, speed limit and weather conditions (Hastings 2007). This is reflected in ‘shift data’, which shows that the majority of single person patrols are conducted in morning shifts, with few being conducted in the twilight and night-time hours (Hastings 2007).

As a result of this review, Victoria Police has been progressively introducing In-Car Video (ICV) systems into Traffic Management Unit vehicles in rural areas to provide visual and audio corroboration. It is also intended to improve officer safety (Chief Commissioner personal communication December 2009). The ICV system includes forward and rear view cameras and two wireless microphones. The ICV equipment is triggered automatically by any of the following actions:

  • activation of:
    • red/blue flashing lights and the siren;
    • siren only;
    • wireless microphone;
  • if the vehicle is involved in a serious collision;
  • it the vehicle is subjected to a predetermined G force acceleration or deceleration; or
  • manually pressing the record button (Chief Commissioner personal communication December 2009).

However, it is important to note that this review was undertaken in relation to single person patrols for traffic duties only, as all other types of duties were outside the scope of the review.

Use of CODE 4

In Victoria, ‘CODE 4’ involves officers reporting their location and details of the vehicle they are pursuing prior to intercepting the vehicle. This practice is considered to increase officer safety because it alerts other police officers to the officer’s location and the likelihood of that officer requiring assistance. However, Hastings (2007) indicated that this process occurs in only about one in 10 intercepts by Victoria Police. An officer’s preparedness to use this process is reduced due to a limited amount of air time on the radio and the practicalities of using CODE 4 for every ‘minor traffic intercept’ (Parkinson 2010). Officers indicated that when they used CODE 4 it suggests to other officers that something about the intercept has made them wary.


Tasmania Police have adopted the Single Member Response Model. A 2010 parliamentary estimates committee transcript summarised that the current policy on single person patrols in Tasmania have been adopted for certain situations in order to ‘maximise…[police] visibility and also…[police] effectiveness and efficiency (Acting Commissioner of Police Darren Hine, Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010: 8). The Minister for Police and Emergency Management in Tasmania indicated that single person patrols are an option for Tasmania Police, stating that from a staffing perspective it is not viable to always have two person patrols.

Tasmania’s single person patrol policy was altered following the shooting of a sergeant in 2006 (Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010). The current policy allows for deployment of single person patrols within a risk management approach (Tasmania Police 2009: clause 1.2); however, single person patrols are not intended for deployment in high-risk situations (Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010). A risk assessment should be made prior to attendance at the scene and all relevant information must be considered. The assessment will be made by radio dispatch personnel when practicable or at the request of the attending officer (Tasmania Police 2009: clause 1.4). This process includes consideration of the available intelligence holdings in relation to the address and persons involved. The risk assessment made may recommend one of the following actions (although this list is not exhaustive):

  • attend and deal with the incident;
  • wait nearby until backup arrives;
  • conduct surveillance of the premises or incident from a safe distance; or
  • conduct reconnaissance of the incident location or premises to assist with deployment of additional personnel (Tasmania Police 2009: clause 1.5).

In general, routine traffic patrols are conducted by single person patrols and there is the potential for an officer to be called to any incident (Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010). A key argument raised about single person patrols is that not all risks can be eliminated, but that training and other measures are in place to reduce the risks officers face when working alone (Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010). This includes training officers to expect the unexpected. It was highlighted that the single person patrol policy is raised in initial police training for officers and that equipment should be available to help diffuse a situation if it becomes violent (Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010). The response model states that, where possible, the following equipment should be made available to an officer working alone:

  • a firearm;
  • a bullet resistant vest (with the exception of foot patrol, motorcycle and vessel duties);
  • OC (Capsicum) Spray;
  • a baton; and
  • a radio (Tasmania Police 2009: clause1.6).

In Tasmania, the police radio is one of the key tools available for police working in either single or two person patrols. It helps them to stay in contact with other police and to assess potentially dangerous situations. To support this, the 2010 Tasmanian police budget included funding for an automatic vehicle location project. All operational vehicles will soon have automatic vehicle location installed as part of the scheme. Automatic vehicle location works by using global positioning system technology to obtain the exact location of patrol cars at any time, particularly when an officer is out of radio contact (Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010). This measure was suggested as part of a suite of risk management strategies to assist officers when patrolling alone (Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010).

In addition, an officer working alone is required to assess a situation based on information relayed by the dispatcher on the radio and the conditions observed at the scene. The officer has the option to withdraw from a scene if they believe that it is too dangerous (Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010). In such cases, the policy specifically states that single patrol officers who withdraw from a scene until additional help arrives will obtain full support of senior officers if the decision by the officer is later questioned (Tasmania Police 2009). Specific training is given to officers in single officer stations, although it is not specified what this training entails. However, the training package offered to officers, subject to transfer to a one or two person station, was developed and maintained by the Operational Skills Unit at the police academy and is conducted by trained personnel (Tasmania Police 2009).

Regardless of these provisions, the policy allows for each incident to be individually assessed for its suitability to have a single member response. Officer safety is the primary concern and if there is any doubt that an officer will be safe then supervisors, duty officers or officers themselves should request additional units to assist (Tasmania Police 2009). The Single Member Response Model requires divisional inspectors, duty officers and supervisors to ensure that officers are aware of this policy, actively monitor compliance with its provisions and make sure that the incident tasking is in keeping with the spirit and intent of the policy (Tasmania Police 2009).Table 4 provides a list of tasks that have been identified as circumstances that would not be suitable for a single member response.

Table 4: Examples of tasks that are unsuitable for single member response in Tasmania Police
Incidents involving serious violence or weapons Conducting arrests Attending alarms or reports of a crime in progress
Attending disturbances or family violence incidences Operational exigencies (eg urgent searches, attendances at disturbances and so on) Incidences with a pre-determined level of response (eg operational orders, contingency plans, prisoner transfer) where risk assessments indicate the need
Specialist roles where the need is clearly established Protection against false allegations Supervision and training purposes

Source: Tasmania Police 2009

The Acting Commissioner suggested that it would be an inefficient use of resources to deploy more than one person for all situations, as many issues are routine matters, such as obtaining witness statements (Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010). He proposed that eliminating single person patrols would result in fewer patrols and that it would significantly reduce police visibility, thus impacting on community confidence in police (Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010).

However, recently in Tasmania, an officer working alone shot and killed an alleged offender after attending a domestic disturbance callout. The deceased allegedly attacked the officer, forcing the officer to shoot, even though the officer had previously used ‘OC’ spray on the attacker (Smith 2010). As a result, Tasmania’s Integrity Commission is monitoring the investigation into the shooting and the coronial inquest will focus on Tasmania’s single person patrol policy and the use of tasers in the state (Smith 2010). The shooting reinforced Tasmania Police Association’s opposition to single person patrols, although the Police Commissioner has ruled out a ban on single person patrols (Smith 2010).

Northern Territory

There are no specific standard operating procedures at the Joint Emergency Communications Centre for frontline officers working in single person patrols in NT Police. The decision to dispatch single person patrols is based on a ‘common sense’ assessment that considers factors such as:

  • Nature of incident—if an incident has the potential to become violent, an officer is unlikely to be deployed alone. However, there is also consideration given to the nature of the incident in relation to the ability of NT Police to dispatch a secondary patrol in a timely manner.
  • Incident location—single person patrols are not dispatched into areas with known communication issues or that are known trouble spots (eg pubs where patrons are known to be anti-police, even if it is a minor inquiry). In addition, the distance required to travel to a location is also considered, particularly in relation to fatigue. For example, it would not be appropriate to send a single officer to an incident in the early morning that requires a high degree of travel to and from the location.
  • If an arrest is possible (most single person patrols are conducted in sedans so for safety reasons it is not possible to secure the person in the rear of a cage).
  • Environmental factors (NT Police representative, personal communication 5 Aug 2011).

Even if there are situations where a single person patrol is considered inappropriate, it was suggested that there have been occasions where an officer who has volunteered to attend a risky situation, such as coming to the aid of a vulnerable victim, will attempt to reduce conflict or confrontation that the victim may have been experiencing (NT Police representative personal communication 5 Aug 2011).

Australian Capital Territory

Australian Federal Police (ACT Policing) policy and operational principles do not advocate the use of single member patrols for routine patrols or response duties. The current policy indicates that all patrols and responses are carried out by two officers per vehicle; with the nature and type of incident determining how many vehicles are deployed (ACT Policing representative personal communication 3 Aug 2011). Single person patrol deployment decisions are based on the Practical guide: Deployment of single member patrols guide. This guide outlines that ‘operational patrols and investigative enquiries will not, where a sworn member may be exposed to operational risk as a matter of course, be conducted alone’ (ACT Policing representative personal communication 3 Aug 2011). Single member patrols can be dispatched to a ‘priority one’ or ‘priority two’ incident as support for a two person patrol, but the officer must wait for the arrival of additional officers in the vicinity of the targeted location. Priority one and priority two situations and how these are determined were not specified in the information provided for the purposes of this research. It was also noted that these guidelines are currently under review, so this policy may change depending on the outcome of the review.


In addition to Prunckun’s (1989) summary mentioned earlier, the only available information on single person patrols in Queensland was from the mid-1990s. In a 1996 review on the Queensland Police Service, it was suggested that single person patrols should be considered to provide more efficient and reactive services to the community (Queensland Police Service Review Committee 1996). Research highlighting that officers are no more effective in one or two officer motorised patrols has been cited in Queensland police resource management documents, although the concept is not expanded in these documents (Fitzgerald 1989; Queensland Police Service Review Committee 1996). A Queensland Police Union representative confirmed that single person patrolling is currently an option in Queensland. In general, the union is opposed to most single person patrol duties with the exception of single officer stations, motorcycle police and dog squad members (Queensland Police Union representative personal communication 6 September 2011). However, the union highlighted single person patrols are rare in Queensland Police (Queensland Police Union representative personal communication 6 September 2011). Despite this, it is unclear what specific policies have been adopted.


The nature and extent of Australian and international operational guidelines relating to single person patrols varies widely from location to location, with the extent of single person patrol deployment affected by constraints on staffing (Wilson 1991), time of day, population density and risk involved in individual taskings, which are typically broken down into ‘low’ and ‘high’ risk activities. Single person patrols are routinely deployed to taskings classified as ‘low risk’ (Wilson 1991); however, there is limited evidence to demonstrate that task ratings are based on systematic investigations, instead they are more likely to be based on a consensus arising from knowledge and experience of operational policing. Therefore much of the responsibility of deployment of single person patrols relies on the dispatching personnel (Wilson 1991). While a number of jurisdictions indicated that relevant training is provided to dispatching personnel, it is unclear from the documentation provided what this training includes and how often it is undertaken.