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Are single person patrol strategies in line with community expectations?

A key gap in the single person patrols literature is whether current practices are in line with community expectations of police. The concept of community expectations that is used in this literature review can be viewed through three related perspectives:

  • what the community expects of police in relation to responding to a citizen’s request or callout;
  • what the community more generally expects of its police in regards to ethics and accountability; and
  • whether the mechanisms and procedures that police management have in place to protect the police while performing their duties meet community standards.

To try to answer these questions, literature on community satisfaction with police and community expectations of police were investigated, and whether solo policing plays a role in improving community perceptions of police services. It is worth noting that although community expectations of police services and their overall satisfaction of these services appear related, the two are not correlated—in other words, low expectations of police should not be interpreted as low satisfaction with their services (Reisig & Stroshine Chandek 2001), just as satisfaction with and confidence in police are different concepts (Myhill & Quinton 2010).

Citizen satisfaction with police and attitudes towards the police have been well documented, particularly in the United States. However, studies rarely use single or two person patrols as a variable. Anecdotally, it has been suggested that single person patrols improves the general relationship between the police and the public and aids in the effectiveness of community policing (Bailey 2008). Information provided by members of the public has a substantial effect on crime detection success, with some estimates suggesting that in the United Kingdom ‘less than 25 percent of crime is solved by real detective work’ (Bailey 2008: 54). In the United Kingdom, it was found that police primarily patrol in pairs that can result in police interacting and talking more with each other than community members during the course of a patrol (Bailey 2008). Therefore, single person patrols might encourage officers to interact and engage more meaningfully with the public, establish communication and trust and lead to a higher degree of public confidence in the police, which are all core components of community policing (Bailey 2008). In addition, it has been proposed that single person patrols are more favourable than two person patrols if an area is trying to increase police visibility and respond more effectively to community needs (eg see Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010). However, available research indicates that these assumptions have yet to be tested in Australia.

Various factors have been found to influence citizen satisfaction or confidence with police, which have little to do with police patrol mode, with most studies of public confidence in police focusing on demographic, attitudinal and contextual factors (Jang, Joo & Zhao 2009). Table 5 summarises some of the key factors of satisfaction, attitudes and confidence with police by citizens. Overall, the influence of certain variables differs among studies. A 2001 review of more than 100 articles of perceptions and attitudes towards the police found that an individual’s age, police contact experience, residence neighbourhood and racial background were consistently supported as key influences, but how they interact with each other and with other factors is still unknown (Brown & Benedict 2002). In Australia, the impact of race needs to be further investigated (Hinds & Murphy 2007). However, a 2005 study in the United States suggested that police actions at the scene (such as showing courtesy, explaining what is going on) is a major determinant of citizen satisfaction with police, more so than a citizen’s personal characteristics such as the race, age and linguistic capabilities (Skogan 2005).

Table 5: Influences on satisfaction with police

Positive—personal safety in one’s neighbourhood, police effectiveness in fighting crime, existence of community policing in neighbourhood

Negative—mass media coverage of police misconduct; perception of police misconduct

Overall—race (but varies between race and when certain variables interact eg demographic)

Witzer & Tuch 2005 (US)

Lower confidence with the police by individuals who had higher levels of acceptance of deviant behaviour has also been found

Jang, Joo & Zhao 2009 (US)

What an officer did at a scene (polite, explained what was going on) influenced satisfaction

Skogan 2005 (US)

Positive—citizens can exercise their voice, police perceived as being unbiased, objective and neutral in handling pursuits and decision making, citizens treated with dignity and rights acknowledged, and show concern for the citizen’s welfare

Skogan & Frydl 2003 (US)

Trust in police influenced by citizen’s perceived fairness of procedures when exercising authority

Tyler 2005 (US)

Attitudes affected by race, type of encounter, indirect vicarious experiences (eg by relatives or friends, or by media reporting)

Rosenbaum et al. 2005 (US)

Procedural justice/legitimacy of police

Hinds & Murphy 2007 (Aust)

Race, formal education, home ownership, income, police behaviour when in contact with citizen; procedural justice

Frank, Smith & Novak 2005 (US)

Positive—perceived decrease in crime, positive encounter with police

Nofzieger &Williams 2005

Confidence in police has also been linked to increases in feelings of safety (Nofzieger & Williams 2005). Positive encounters with police were found to increase citizen confidence (eg Nofzieger & Williams 2005), as does how a citizen perceives the level of engagement, fairness and effectiveness of police behaviour within the community (Stanko & Bradford 2009). Irrespective of this, levels of satisfaction naturally varies between citizens, with those who initiate contact with police (eg for assistance) generally having higher satisfaction levels than those where police have initiated the contact, such as pulled over for a traffic stop (Skogan 2005). Satisfaction levels can also vary depending on the circumstances. For example, satisfaction can be influenced by a positive or negative experience in citizen-initiated police encounters (eg positive experience produces positive attitudes of police), but negative police initiated contacts did not appear to negatively impact attitudes, most likely as a result of citizens having low expectations of these encounters in the first place (Rosenbaum et al. 2005). Predetermined attitudes towards police were also a factor, which are often shaped by indirect vicarious experiences (eg a neighbour’s or relative’s experience with police, or media reports), therefore affecting expectations of police services (Rosenbaum et al. 2005). A review of available evidence on citizen confidence in policing found that effective strategies for maintaining confidence include policing activities associated with ‘service-oriented’ models, such as visible patrols, procedural fairness, community policing and problem solving (Myhill & Quinton 2010).

Citizens’ expectations around certain police behaviours and functions have been investigated in various studies, including what citizens want of their police more generally. However, this has been rarely undertaken in the context of single person patrols. It has been suggested the greater police visibility via vehicle patrols can have a negative effect on community members (Salmi, Gronroos & Keskinen 2004). Research found respondents who saw more police on foot patrols were less afraid of property crime than those who reported seeing the police more often in patrol cars (Salmi, Gronroos & Keskinen 2004).

Overall, studies indicate that police–community engagement, respect for citizens and fairness are often the most important considerations for the community. The recently introduced NSW Police Force Customer Service Program advocates increased police visibility and greater community engagement strategies to improve satisfaction with police (Burn 2010). Recent New Zealand research found (among other things) that what the public wanted and expected from their police was that they had more staffing options, more community engagement, especially police ‘walking the beat’ more, being more active, visible and approachable in the community (McCardle & Webb 2010). Anecdotally, an NT officer with single patrol experience noted that prompt attendance to a callout appears to be a greater community expectation than the number of police who attend, yet he will often receive comments asking where his partner is, or is questioned whether he is working alone. Therefore, he perceived that there is probably an expectation that two officers will attend, but also noted that these comments could also be asked out of concern for the officer’s wellbeing when working alone (NT Police representative personal communication 5 Aug 2011). He also noted in some instances of individuals trying to take advantage of a situation by escalating the aggression or violence when they learn the officer is working alone, although this is not the norm (NT Police representative personal communication 5 Aug 2011). However, as these observations are anecdotal they require a more thorough investigation to determine if this is observed more broadly.

In Germany, a survey about expectations of police found that most respondents supported the adoption of community policing and problem-oriented policing methods (Weitekamp, Kerner & Meier 2003). Community policing has been linked to increased satisfaction with police (Witzer & Tuch 2005) and was promoted as a key policing strategy in the Queensland Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption (Fitzgerald 1989), although it should not be seen as a panacea to preventing corruption (Newburn 1999). In Western Australia’s current single person patrols, policy community policing is considered an appropriate activity for a single officer. However, information was not available on what activities WA Police define as community policing.

Measuring the levels of police complaints is another key indicator of satisfaction with police. As previously mentioned, it was suggested that two person patrols were subject to more complaints than single person patrols and had higher rates of injuring citizens during an encounter (Johnson 1999; Wilson & Brewer 1991a). It has been suggested that police subculture, officer overconfidence as a result of having constant backup at hand and citizens’ reactions might contribute to higher resistance, more complaints and citizen injuries among two person patrols (Johnson 1999).

Despite this, current literature on reducing citizen complaints against police does not suggest increasing single person patrols as a possible strategy to achieve this. Politeness/courtesy when interacting with a citizen was shown to be a positive influence on police satisfaction in many studies (Frank, Smith & Novak 2005; Skogan 2005; Skogan & Frydl 2003), as was perceived fairness in the way police exercised their authority (Frank, Smith & Novak 2005; Hinds & Murphy 2007; Skogan 2005; Skogan & Frydl 2003; Tyler 2005) and perceptions of police performance and legitimacy (Hinds 2009). Many citizen complaints are seen to be the result of an individual perceiving the officer as treating them disrespectfully (Johnson 2004; Ransley, Anderson & Prenzler 2007). Training officers in communicating more effectively in a courteous manner with citizens (eg Frank, Smith & Novak 2005; Johnson 2004) and emphasising the importance of procedural justice were suggested solutions (Gilmour 2010; Hinds 2009; Hinds & Murphy 2007; Johnson 2004).

In the United States, a study of police complaints after new policing strategies were introduced found that in New York City, two precincts had a decrease in complaints (compared with the other city precincts that recorded an increase in complaints) and this was most likely due to the two precinct commanders changing precinct culture to take citizen complaints seriously and to emphasise ‘respectful’ policing (Davis, Mateu-Gelabert & Miller 2005). Using complaints data in conjunction with crime mapping to identify potential areas with many complaints and then develop strategies to reduce them within a police unit is also suggested as a potential measure (Ede, Homel & Prenzler 2002).

Do police mechanisms and procedures meet community standards?

Another measure to examine whether single person patrols are in line with community expectations is to review the mechanisms and procedures that police management have in place to protect officers when performing their duties alone. However, the general absence of information on current mechanisms and procedures used to implement single person patrols means that it is not possible to comment on this question with much authority. In the absence of such information, coronial inquest findings could (arguably) be used to gauge what the community expects in relation to single person patrols. In Prenzler’s (2010: 2) summary of earlier research by Pelfrey and Covington he notes that

in most advanced democracies, inquests are considered to be highly independent and objective in their approach and capable of countering defensive biases by government departments and corporations.

Therefore, findings from inquests could provide a more objective view of community expectations of officer patrol conditions than police management, police officers and police unions alone.

Most inquest recommendations regarding single person patrols often look to restrict and tighten the practice, rather than expand its application. This could suggest that in most cases, single person patrol policies may not be what the community (via the courts) expect in most circumstances. As raised earlier, the 2007 inquest into the death of William John Watkins in Western Australia recommended limiting the number of single person patrols in all but exceptional circumstances and only when the use of force is extremely unlikely (Hope 2009). This recommendation was subsequently adopted by WA Police.

The coronial inquest into the death of Victorian police officer Senior Constable Anthony John Hogarth Clarke, who was killed by an offender while working alone, led to four recommendations, of which two specifically related to single person patrols (Parkinson 2010). Senior Constable Clarke was shot and killed while performing a traffic interception while patrolling solo. The offender used the Senior Constable’s own service revolver killing Senior Constable Clarke before turning the gun on himself. The inquest was held to investigate and make recommendations relating to the processes and procedures that contributed to the death of Senior Constable Clarke. The coronial inquest highlighted the risk involved in intercepting targets at night, in the dark, in a country or remote area, with the involvement of alcohol and no other officer present to immediately assist of call for backup in the event of difficulties (Parkinson 2010). In addition, the inquest found that a solo officer is unable to supervise the process adequately and is vulnerable to random attack (Parkinson 2010). The two relevant recommendations were:

  • the practice of working one-up be abolished in circumstances involving high risk activities such as drink driver, late night and remote area intercepts and that
  • a risk assessment tool be developed to assist supervisors to determine whether one or two up manning is appropriate in other circumstances (Parkinson 2010: 36–37).

Consequently, Victoria Police have adopted a risk assessment tool and limit patrols in certain high-risk activities (see the third section of this report), but it is unclear how this is being implemented in practice. However, even if certain recommendations have been made, police do not always adopt them for managerial reasons. For example, the Tasmania Police Assistant Commissioner highlighted that although they were aware of the recommendation in the Clarke inquiry to abolish single person patrols in certain circumstances, this would not be adopted by Tasmania Police for efficiency and cost reasons (see Legislative Council of Tasmania 2010).

The Watson and Clarke examples illustrate how inquests can be used as a proxy to gauge whether police management have the appropriate mechanisms in place for officers performing their duties alone. They have also allowed jurisdictions to consider a change in police practices to adopt practices that align with community standards. Contrary to some of the available literature, neither inquest has recommended that single person patrols be expanded, although there is agreement that if single person patrolling is undertaken that it should be for low-risk and/or community policing duties.

Evidence corroboration, corruption and misconduct concerns

Whereas much research has been dedicated to solo policing and its influence on safety and workplace efficiency, its relationship with the corroboration of court evidence, corruption and misconduct has not been well explored in the literature. These factors are raised here as it could reasonably be assumed that the community would have high expectations of police behaving ethically and accountably, particularly in relation to the amount of discretionary power police possess (Ransley, Prenzler & Anderson 2007).

In both Australia and the United States, public perceptions of police legitimacy are considered critical to the police being able to perform their duties effectively (Hinds 2009; Hinds & Murphy 2007). Recent Australian studies have shown that legitimacy is associated with the presence of procedural justice (Hinds & Murphy 2007) and that people’s perception of police performance, police legitimacy and police use of procedural justice is possibly more influential in shaping satisfaction than simply contact with the police (Hinds 2009). A perceived lack of accountability can negatively influence police legitimacy (Chermak, McGarrell & Gruenewald 2005). It is suggested that improving police legitimacy can be achieved through promoting procedural justice through process-based policing models (Hinds & Murphy 2007). Process-based policing model frameworks focus on improving a citizen’s perceptions of procedural justice and police legitimacy through improving their opinion of the quality of treatment they get from police and their opinion on the quality of police decision making, which should then encourage citizens to follow the law and improve trust in police resulting in improved citizen compliance and cooperation with police (Reisig, Bratton & Gertz 2007).

Police misconduct and corruption have been widely researched, however, studies do not look at patrol mode (ie single or 2 person patrols) in this research. Instead, research in these areas chiefly examines complaints against individual police officers (see above), types of misconduct and the characteristics of the officer(s) in question. Civil litigation complaints against police in Australia generally involve allegations of abuse of use of force and police corruption (Ransley, Prenzler & Anderson 2007), which is similar to complaints findings internationally. A review of factors that contribute to deadly force liability in the United States suggested that organisational factors can be influential, with management principles such as hierarchy of authority, communication and division of labour being cited as areas where bad practices can lead to ‘bad’ shootings (Lee & Vaughn 2010).

Another focus for complaints literature is on the characteristics of the officers involved. These often review complaints in excessive use of force cases. Common characteristics identified among officers investigated for use of force or violence allegations include being young (Brandl, Stroshine & Frank 2001), less experienced (Lersch 2002), male (Brandl, Stroshine & Frank 2001), middle and lower ranked officers (McElvain & Kposowa 2004; Herzog 2000), and police involved in operational and/or investigative functions (Herzog 2000). One study found that greater arrest activity was also linked to excessive force complaints (Brandl, Stroshine & Frank 2001) and that sometimes complaints may be indicative of greater officer productivity (Lersch 2002; Terrill & McClusky 2002). Many of these factors are recognised as being interrelated; for example, younger officers are more likely to be in lower ranks and involved in duties that bring them into contact with police than more senior officers (Herzog 2000). To reduce complaints, more focus on training and mentoring new officers is often suggested (McElvain & Kposowa 2004).

Peer groups within the police service have been recognised as an influential factor in police corruption, although peer group association could either support or discourage corrupt practices (Caless 2008; Newburn 1999). In an opinion piece, Johnson (1999) speculates that when working alone, an officer feels less pressure to conform to the stereotype of the subculture, while the presence of a second officer may magnify the subculture. As various commissions into corruption and misconduct have indicated (eg Wood Royal Commission in NSW; Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland; Knapp Commission in New York), a culture of secrecy can often exist among police and the loyalty expected to fellow officers can keep police officers silent on reporting or engaging in corruption (Caless 2008), although it is recognised that police culture itself is not the source of corruption (Wood 1997).

Mode of patrol (single person vs 2 person) was not examined as a participatory factor in reporting or encouraging corruption; however, some recommendations suggest certain duties that should be conducted by more than one officer. In New South Wales, the Wood Royal Commission (Wood 1997) recommended that a second officer must be present when an officer is interviewing an informant of the opposite sex. Another related oversight measure included the use of civilian observers when large amounts of cash or drugs is expected to be encountered, but this does not affect whether the patrol is single person or multiple officers. Tighter supervision is a measure suggested to reduce corrupt practices, although the nature of police work makes this difficult at times (Newburn 1999). One of the outcomes from the Knapp Commission in New York was to increase corruption control powers of field commanders, with corruption-prone patrol tasks being subject to a policy of supervisory presence at these arrests (Newburn 1999). Despite this, none of these recommendations are indicative of whether working alone could heighten or reduce the opportunity for corrupt behaviour.

Not every situation where police need to corroborate evidence relates to corruption. Among the challenges associated with implementing single person patrol is the absence of corroboration. This can be important for testimony in court and may impact on the success of prosecution in the court case (Wilson & Brewer 1991a). Unfortunately, there is little information available regarding an officer’s ability to corroborate evidence or statements taken when responding alone. The limited research found was isolated to corroboration of evidence in relation to police corruption, with no literature located that dealt with whether police who worked alone were either adversely or positively affected in their work when having to present their findings in court or in any other forum.

At best, the available literature only appears to provide advice on how to avoid being the subject of false or vexatious complaints, or how to reduce the likelihood of officer’s evidence and procedures being called into question through various recording devices, thorough record keeping and using Closed Circuit Television footage for example (Van Straaten 2004). However, one police representative contacted for this research indicated that when working alone, an officer is often aware that that if an allegation is made against that officer that they may be perceived to be at fault until proven otherwise (NT Police representative personal communication 4 August 2011). As such, this can impact on the way an officer performs their duties. In addition, NT police officers working alone now carry recording devices to avoid vexatious complaints being made. Vexatious complaints were anecdotally considered most common when an officer is issuing a traffic infringement notice (NT Police representative personal communication 4 August 2011).


Despite an extensive review of current policing literature, this report is unable to comprehensively answer the question of whether the mechanisms and procedures that police management have in place to protect police while performing their duties for single person patrols meet community standards. The lack of information available on this issue is not just relevant to single person patrols, but for answering the question of whether procedures meet current community standards for all police actions. Many decisions on whether to deploy first-response officers in single or two person patrols are subject to policies that are usually based on arguments of efficiency, safety and cost effectiveness. There is also little evidence of whether police themselves, or the general community, have been consulted. However, as previously outlined, this could be the result of the researchers not having access to documents on how decisions were made.

In summary, community perceptions and expectations of police are often linked to a person’s race, age and contact with police. Attitudes are often predetermined based on vicarious and other experiences of citizen-police contact, and satisfaction with police is linked to police legitimacy and perceived procedural fairness/justice when conducting police work. When citizens encounter the police, they expect to be treated with fairness and respect, which were two conditions that were reflected in most of the Australian and international research. Police interaction, rather than mode of patrol, appears more relevant in improving satisfaction and reducing complaints against police.

However, it is also important to note that community expectations of police have not been examined in regards to the difference between reactive, response policing tasks and tasks undertaken as part of community policing. Therefore, there may be differing and possibly contradictory expectations of what the community expects of their police and their services depending on the task or duty performed. As important as the question is regarding whether single person patrol policing by frontline officers is in line with community expectations, there simply is not enough evidence available to draw any conclusions.