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Conclusion and recommendations

The purpose of this literature review was not to support or discourage the implementation of single person patrols, but to understand the multitude of factors that influence its delivery. To avoid reporting solely on efficiency and safety considerations, the research questions also attempted to look at single person patrols in a broader context. The four research questions were:

  • 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 when deciding to deploy single person patrols?
  • Are single person patrol strategies in line with community expectations?

An attempt was made to address each question separately; however, it is evident that the questions are not mutually exclusive. In particular, the first three questions are inextricably linked and these factors inform the decision-making process behind the use (or otherwise) of deploy single person patrols.

Overall, there has been limited research on single person patrols and policing in Australia. The majority of research on single person patrols was conducted in the 1980s in the United States and the 1990s in Australia. As such, the research needs to be updated, with a greater focus on any issues that are specific to the contemporary Australian environment and the context of solo work.

Most of the literature exploring single person patrols includes comparisons between one and two person patrols. These tend to compare citizen complaints, arrests, efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Findings are often mixed on these factors, as well as how police themselves feel about single person patrol duties. Therefore, it would be worthwhile to update these earlier findings, especially to see if any follow-up work has been conducted after single person patrols have been introduced more widely.

Has the policing environment changed since solo policing was introduced?

As highlighted in the first section, the policing environment is in a perpetual state of change as a result of both internal and external influences. The characteristics of much of this reform include a shift away from more traditional reactive policing strategies towards a more proactive, community-focused framework with community policing, greater focus of managerial concerns such as performance indicators, efficiency and accountability of resources and the adoption of more risk management approaches.

Any reform within the police service is often characterised by unintended consequences that affect the long-term effectiveness of the reforms (Fleming & Rhodes 2004). Often community policing can be at odds with efficiency and other priorities (Fleming & Rhodes 2004). It has not been possible to explore if these shifting police organisational paradigms have had unintended consequences on how and when single person patrols are deployed. For example, the increased visibility of police officers promoted through community policing is considered important for improving community engagement and satisfaction with police, but how does this affect the wellbeing of an officer working alone? This is not to suggest that officers are put at risk with community policing strategies—indeed, it could be assumed that this is extremely unlikely. However, as there is a dearth of conclusive evidence on how different policing practices affect single person patrols, at present it is not possible to draw any firm conclusions.

Outside internal police management, there have also been changes in the policing environment that have the potential to affect the types of duties that police perform. Positively, crime rates in general appear to be decreasing, although many violent crimes have been steadily increasing over the past decade. In South Australia in particular, the rate of recorded alcohol-related crime is increasing (SAPOL 2010a). There is also increased recognition that police are often the first point of contact for individuals suffering from a mental illness entering the criminal justice system. Whereas it is unlikely for an officer to be dispatched alone to situations involving alcohol or mentally ill offenders, there is still the possibility that officers may feel compelled to intervene (as the NT Police representative indicated).

Dealing with the changing police environment

At present, it could be concluded that most Australian police agencies try to deal with the variable and unpredictable nature of police work by employing risk management frameworks. Indeed, better risk management procedures have been suggested as ways to reduce police deaths and injuries (Prenzler & Allard 2009). It appears that single person patrols are no exception, with most Australian single person patrol policies using a risk management framework. This is evident in the various situations that police face that require a response that has been assessed in accordance to a risk management response. It could be argued that such frameworks are adequate tools to assess changes in the policing environment as documented above. Most of the factors identified as high-risk activities—dealing with a mentally ill offender, patrolling at night, policing alcohol-related violence—are not considered suitable for single person patrols. Risk assessments are generally conducted based on a predetermined risk scale, which is generally informed by previous research findings or an analysis of police data (eg South Australia). Supervisors, dispatchers and the responding officers also have a degree of discretion when responding to a callout, although this varies by jurisdiction.

Wilson and Brewer (1992) recommended that decisions related to single person patrols should be reviewed regularly so that any changing influences can be identified, such as crime characteristics, city layout or technology. It appears that no research was available on how well the single person patrol risk assessments work in practice in any Australian jurisdiction and whether Wilson and Brewer’s (1992) suggestion for routine reviews of single person patrols in relation to changes in the environment have been adopted by police agencies. From the available evidence, it appears that fatal or near fatal incidences were the primary impetus for reviewing single person patrol policies in some jurisdictions (eg Western Australia, Tasmania). In addition, it can be speculated from the policies available to the researchers that the risk assessment tools are designed more for assessing risks within the external environment and do not appear to factor in changes in overall police management and operational structure.

Emerging technology

Changing technologies and equipment are other factors that should not be discounted in the application of single person patrol policies. As Prenzler (2010) notes, advances in technology and improved procedures have seen a decline in police fatalities since the 1960s. Although it was not raised as a separate point in this review due to time constraints, its importance as an influential factor in the development of policies is evident throughout the review. In Western Australia for example, the WA OSH regulations that require the employer to provide reliable means of communication for isolated employees (those working alone) influenced the ban on single person patrols in Western Australia. In addition, agencies such as Tasmania Police indicated that (for example) equipping an officer with a firearm, baton, OC spray and AVL in the patrol car make single person patrols more viable, especially when deploying more officers is not feasible. ICV systems have also been installed in Victorian patrol cars to assist officers who work alone. Therefore, it could be worthwhile to investigate the influence of these emerging technologies on single person patrol decisions in more detail.

What impact does working alone have on officers successfully performing their duties?

As identified above, single person patrols are not applied to every aspect of police work and are usually employed within a risk management framework. As such, taskings considered dangerous (eg at night, dealing with violent offenders or situations) would not be considered appropriate for single person patrols. At present, the available research indicates that there is not much difference between performance of single person patrols and two person patrols. However, most police are wary of single person patrols (eg Wilson & Brewer 1991a). It has been suggested that single officers may deal with interactions with members of the public in a qualitatively different way to officers working together (Wilson & Brewer 2001). There is also evidence that officers in single person patrols are subject to fewer complaints than two person patrols, although much research attributes this to two person patrols being more likely to attend riskier situations than single person patrols.

Despite most research focusing on what activities could be considered appropriate or inappropriate for single person patrols, there was not a lot of in-depth research on the overall impact on officer effectiveness broader than factors such as response times and complaints. As described in more detail below, more research is needed to find out how this impacts on police not just in regards to their effectiveness in performing their duties, but the impact on their feelings of safety and wellbeing.

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

Developing single person patrol policies

It was difficult to obtain a comprehensive overview of how decisions are made for the deployment of single person patrols in either Australia or internationally. Single person patrol policies vary among Australian jurisdictions and not every jurisdiction has specific policies (eg NT Police). Most information available indicates that police agencies implement their policies based on efficiency and resource demands. Safety was also raised and research that single person patrols were no less safe than working in two person patrols was often cited (eg Hastings 2007). It is likely that such references were to research conducted by Australian researchers Wilson and Brewer (2001, 1992, 1991b, 1991a).

The development of single person patrols policies often involved consultations with police personnel. In some cases, police officers have been consulted about single person patrols (eg the South Australia demand management strategy feedback sheet and Victoria Police consultation with Traffic Management staff) and police associations have been apprised of the plans (eg PASA). Moreover, in some cases, police associations have been active participants in the development of the policies (eg WAPU). Irrespective of this, it appears that in most cases it is not clear how feedback has been incorporated into the resulting policies. In addition, even if these processes are in place, one significant event such as the serious injury of an officer in Western Australia while working alone could be the catalyst for changing single person patrol policy.

When reviewing the available sources, it is crucial to keep in mind that not all information that informed each jurisdiction’s single person patrol policies was able to be reviewed. Nevertheless, within the single person patrols literature, it is clear that even when consultations have taken place, there is often a disconnect between police management employing single person patrol policies and many operational police and their associations belief that they are simply not worth the risk. However, it should not be assumed that management and officers fall neatly into either category, or that the issue has only two distinct and opposing views. Studies have shown that some officers are content and sometimes prefer to work alone (eg Hastings 2007; Wilson & Brewer 1991a), others have opposed it (eg Prissell 2009) and there are others who are not opposed to the practice if certain conditions are met (eg Hastings 2007).

In light of these opposing opinions, the position of police associations should not be discounted. In Australia, the police are considered to be one of the most highly unionised professions, with an estimated 99 percent of approximately 50,000 police officers affiliated with an employee agency in 2006 (Burgess, Fleming & Marks 2006). As such, it is noteworthy that all eight Australian police associations have indicated through the PFA that they oppose the use of single person patrols in most circumstances. Equally, it would be inaccurate to suggest that police management are not concerned with officer welfare in relation to single person patrols. Therefore, reviews of single person patrol policies would benefit from a balanced appraisal of the issue from both management and officers and the relevant police association(s) and the reasons behind why certain factors were (or were not) considered in their single person patrol position.

Single person patrol policies in practice

Where single person patrols existed, the decision to deploy an officer was usually made by the police dispatcher, often using a risk assessment tool to determine the callout grade and subsequently whether one or two officers were required to attend a call. It was unclear what measures jurisdictions have taken (such as the level of training for dispatch operators) to put these policies in practice beyond general references to training being provided (eg Tasmania Police). Nor was there any evidence available on how well single person patrol policies are being implemented from cost-effectiveness, efficiency and safety perspectives, each of which are usually the reasons for employing single person patrols.

Although risk assessments are being used to determine whether to deploy single person patrols, there is also limited evidence on how well this is being done in practice. However, there is some evidence that risk assessments can play an important role in officer safety more generally. Even though policing is generally recognised as being a more dangerous occupation than many others, the risk of serious injury or death from police duties is still low. Coincidental to the shift towards a risk management framework for many aspects of policing, including for single person patrols, has been a steady decline in officer deaths since the 1960s (Prenzler & Allard 2009). More thorough and stringent risk management procedures have also been recommended as a way to reduce officer injury and death (eg see Prenzler 2010). Thus, on many levels the use of such frameworks has arguably played a part in lowering the risks associated with some key aspects of police work. However, the issue that has yet to be addressed is what level of risk is acceptable when dispatching single person patrols and whether an officer’s wellbeing and perceptions of safety should be overruled in favour of a risk assessment tool that has been primarily designed to focus on, for example, response times and community satisfaction.

Perceptions of safety are often used as a key indicator of community satisfaction with police (see the National Survey of Community Satisfaction with Policing NSCSP findings in SCRGSP 2010). As the first section highlighted, even if there is not a great risk to an individual, the individual’s perception of safety is not always related to the relative risk. However, a key gap in research is the influence of police perceptions of safety on the job, in particular when operating as a single person patrol. It could be argued that police feelings of safety should be given as much credence as the general public when performing their duties. The impact of not feeling safe may affect the way police conduct their duties and potentially impact on officer wellbeing. It could be speculated that even if the research has shown that police are no more/less safe performing their duties in a single person patrol, a more important variable could be whether they perceive themselves as being safe. Limited research has indicated that working alone influences the feelings of safety among police officers (Boydstun, Sherry & Moelter 1977; Brewer & Karp 1991), although this area could warrant further investigation by broadening research to include the factors mentioned above.

In short, there is limited evidence about the impact of widespread adoption of single person patrols. Most studies reviewed used only a small sample of cases and often in only certain patrol circumstances that makes comparing single person and two person patrols difficult due to the different tasks assigned to the two patrol types. In the majority of cases, the adoption of single person patrols had not been revisited for an evaluation of its effectiveness to see if the effects (either positive or negative) were the same.

Even though it appears that single person patrol policies only undergo significant review after an officer is wounded or killed, it is still unreasonable to expect police management to anticipate every situation and assess risk accurately every time, regardless of whether it is in relation to single or two person patrols, as police often deal with unexpected occurrences. However, it may be worthwhile investigating whether police are or should be reviewing their single person patrol policies more regularly (as Brewer & Wilson 1992 suggest) and not just when officers are injured. This may already be happening, although in the absence of any publicly available literature, it is difficult to confirm this.

Only one study appeared to revisit the adoption of single person patrols. This study, based on a viability assessment of single person patrols, did not result in positive findings. Of particular concern, was the San Diego Police Department’s widespread application of single person patrols, which was eventually abandoned due to a corresponding increase in officer mortality over the same period (Prunckun 1990). It must be cautioned that it is unclear whether single person patrols were the primary factor behind the mortality rate or if other environmental/contextual factors contributed to this phenomenon. In addition, this is one study only and was undertaken in the United States. Despite this, the broad findings highlight the need to assess whether universal application of certain single person patrol policies is appropriate. This is not to imply that current Australian practices of single person patrols have or will have such a negative effect on an officer’s safety. There is simply not enough research that has conducted follow-up evaluations to determine whether the policies adopted are working and whether they are producing unintended or unexpected effects (either positive or negative).

Are single person patrol strategies in line with community expectations?

As there was virtually no information available on community expectations of single person patrols it is impossible to give a definitive comment on this topic. Beyond the one study that showed that solo officers were subject to fewer complaints than two-up patrols (Wilson & Brewer 1991a), the research on the issues of improving community satisfaction, addressing expectations of police and reducing police complaints does not generally consider the impact of single person patrols. Whereas some literature supports single person patrols as a means of reducing complaints, there was little evidence of how this works in practice. Conversely, no data were available to suggest that abolishing single person patrols would help improve satisfaction with police, therefore suggesting the need for further research into this area.

The coronial inquests into the cases of William John Watkins in Western Australia and Senior Constable Clarke in Victoria highlighted the dangers and risks officers face and the need to exercise great caution when deploying police patrols. In Senior Constable Clarke’s case, although not all recommendations were adopted, it could not be said that police management have dismissed the findings and recommendations of the inquests, as other factors (such as resourcing) can hamper the ability of police management to implement widespread changes. However, the recommendations can be used to gauge what the community could see as the ideal response to these situations.

Although community expectations are important, it should not be interpreted as the main consideration when reviewing single person patrol policies. It has been argued that police often face a paradox when it comes to community expectations—the public can complain of inefficiency and demand more police, yet at the same time have little understanding of police work and can often expect police to conduct non-urgent work and work outside the scope of policing (Fleming & Rhodes 2004). There may also be conflicting community expectations when an officer engages in reactive policing duties compared with community policing duties. In addition, factors that are used to measure community satisfaction of police services can be flawed. For example, an indicator like fast response times to callouts, that police use to measure police performance and community satisfaction, may not be appropriate (Fleming & Rhodes 2004). This is because they may only reflect how fast police arrive rather than what impact that quick arrival has on crime outcomes. Such an indicator may pressure officers to conclude situations quickly in order to record better times when reporting on a performance indicator (Fleming & Rhodes 2004). This is only one example, however, it suggests that consideration of such factors would also be relevant when using efficiency/performance indicators as measures to compare single person patrol effectiveness with two person patrols, as researchers have used such indicators in the past.

A neglected area of research is the impact single person patrols has on corroborating evidence not just in relation to corruption issues, but when police present evidence in general. No research could be located on this issue (not including the limited reference to having supervisory presence in some situations as mentioned in the Wood Royal Commission and Knapp Commission). Yet it could potentially play a significant role in how police conduct their duties and may also have resourcing implications. Indeed, it was suggested that this is a factor that can influence patrolling alone. It may be the case that it has little bearing on police resources, but the absence of research in the area makes it difficult to assess.

Directions for future research

At the very least, any research into single person patrols should be broadened to encompass the issues beyond those relating to personal safety and effectiveness to take into consideration the current police environment and other relevant issues. A deeper exploration into the issue of community expectations was not possible due to time and resource constraints. However, the current dearth of evidence available on the opinion of the public on the mechanisms and procedures used to determine police functions in general could suggest that any further investigation into the literature sources with such a specific topic as single person patrols could prove futile. As such, this and other research might be better investigated by surveys, interviews or other methods that specifically set out to investigate the issue.

Most research on the topic is dated and needs to be updated in relation to the contemporary Australian policing environment. Particular gaps in the available research include:

  • how management have made decisions and policies regarding single person patrols;
    • considerations of policing environment, inquiries, OH&S concerns and how policies are delivered in practice;
  • how common single person patrols are in practice;
  • how frontline officers perceive single person patrols;
    • if it affects (among other things) decision-making processes, safety, efficiency, health and effectiveness;
  • community opinion on single person patrols;
    • how it affects feelings of safety, service delivery, perceptions of procedural justice and whether single person patrols can impact on families and friends;
    • how community expectations of police regarding single person patrols vary depending on whether the duties performed are responsive, reactive policing compared with community policing duties;
  • how single person patrols can affect the ethics and accountability of officers performing their duties;
  • how single person patrols affect corroboration of evidence, opportunities for misconduct etc;
  • whether single person patrols are viewed differently or have a differential impact on individuals from Indigenous and CALD communities;
  • whether the practical implementation of single person patrol policies are affected by location and other resourcing requirements (such as any differences in rural/remote/regional/urban settings and available equipment).

With at least one Australian jurisdiction (Western Australia) introducing a policy of not allowing first-response officers to patrol alone, the opportunity exists for research to conduct (where possible) pre/post testing of the policy on some of the key issues raised above and to compare where possible across other jurisdiction(s) on factors such as police attitudes to single person patrols and policies. These research gaps and suggestions are defined more broadly below.

Updating single person patrol research and the applicability of current research to the Australian context

Compared with research into other policing concerns such as alcohol and drugs, mental illness and the effect on public satisfaction with police, it is clear that single person patrols is an under-researched area. As a result, there is limited research into how common single person patrols are across Australia more generally. Therefore, it might be beneficial to undertake an activity analysis on the practice to obtain an overview of the extent and nature of the practice. Since the majority of key Australian studies on the issue were conducted in the early 1990s, police management structures and the environment have undergone significant shifts. These studies, particularly the factors identified in earlier studies that affect decisions on single person patrols (eg safety, efficiency, effectiveness) would benefit from being revisited, especially in areas where widespread adoption or cessation of single person patrols have occurred.

There was some previous research on the impact of contextual and other factors on single person patrols (eg rural vs urban), with only type of callout being considered a significant impact. However, it might be worthwhile updating this research in relation to how the application of the single person patrol policy differs (if at all) among different geographical locations and even between locations. In addition, it could be useful to see if different populations such as indigenous, CALD, rural/remote communities have different expectations or experiences with single person patrols.

Decision-making processes behind single person patrol policies and practices

There is a clear need to obtain a more comprehensive overview of how decisions are made in creating policies regarding single person patrols. The current review offers only incomplete examples across Australia and therefore caution must be exercised when interpreting these policies. Without a complete understanding of these processes, it is hard to assess not only whether they are being implemented as intended, but whether the rationale of implementing single person patrol polices are based on current and available evidence. This includes how the opinions and feedback from police officers and relevant police associations have been taken into consideration, as well as the weight given to cost, safety and efficiency factors. How OH&S policies are applied to single person patrols is another area of potential research, including whether they provide enough guidance for decision makers when developing the policies.

From the available sources, it appears that often the decision to deploy in single or two person patrols relies on the judgement of the dispatcher based on information made available to them, although this decision may also be subject to the assessment of the patrol supervisor (eg South Australia) and the officer’s own assessment of the situation (eg Tasmania). Research into how this works in practice is currently missing from single person patrol literature, yet is an extremely important part of implementing the policy. This could include research on unpredictability of taskings such as examining the type of call and whether the type of call is different to what the officer is tasked to and also the proportion of taskings that are escalated and the characteristics of these call types. In order for more research into these factors to occur, police organisations would need to support the research and be willing to allow access to documents relating to these policies (provided they exist). It may also include interviewing key police personnel involved in making these decisions.

Another dimension that should be investigated is how emerging technologies and equipment shape single person patrol policies. Despite certain advancements such as global positioning systems in patrol cars, the increasing use of ICV system footage, equipping police with OC spray and/or tasers and the use of recording devices being advocated as ways to protect police when undertaking their duties (particularly for single person patrols), their effectiveness to mitigate the risks for patrolling alone has not been explored. In addition, it would be useful to study whether police officers view these measures as adequate or reassuring when patrolling alone.

Whether single person patrol deployment affects an officer’s actions and decision-making processes while performing their duties

Little research has been done to examine whether single person patrol deployment affects how an officer makes decisions when responding to a callout. It was suggested that high resistance experienced by two person patrols may be due to single person patrols having less contact with the offenders in these taskings, such as standing back or being slower to respond (Wilson & Brewer 1991b). However, more could be known about these factors and anything else that may influence their decisions.

There is scope to conduct a more in-depth analysis of what police think about single person patrols and how it affects their decisions while working in a single person patrol. The analysis should also update previous research on their opinions about safety and effectiveness, and potentially revisit the analysis conducted on the expected success and anxiety of officers working alone to see if there have been any changes (see Brewer & Karp 1991).This could be done by designing a survey to address these areas to obtain opinions from a broader police audience and supplemented by consultations with a number of police representatives. Depending on resources, such a survey could be done in one or more jurisdictions. Findings could be analysed for differences in responses on particular questions between for example rural/urban officers, rank and jurisdiction. If more than one jurisdiction is included, it would provide an opportunity to see if perceptions of single person patrols differ, with the potential to compare satisfaction/dissatisfaction with their jurisdiction’s policy on the issue.

Community expectations and single person patrols

  • How single person patrol policies align with community expectations warrants a more thorough investigation. What the community expects may vary depending on whether it is community policing or reactive, response policing, and therefore the findings may show contradictory expectations. It may be worthwhile exploring community (and even police) expectations with this distinction in mind.
  • Comment has been made how increasing single person patrols may improve police visibility and through this, increase perceptions of safety within the community (Wilson & Brewer 1992). However, Wilson (1990) found the effect of increased police visibility as a result of an increase in number of cars on the road was so small that it justifies only minor consideration. In addition, the medium by which policing is delivered has also been found to be related to crime concerns with greater vehicle patrols actually having a negative effect on community crime concerns (Salmi, Gronroos & Keskinen 2004).
  • Despite this, no research was identified that specifically sought public opinion on single person patrols. Of particular interest to research would be to gauge among other things what the community expects when calling police for help (such as 1 or more officer, or 2 single person patrol officers) for a range of situations, in what circumstances do they consider it acceptable, whether patrol mode affects their feeling of safety and if they think police service delivery is affected by this. If this research is conducted, much thought would need to be given to obtain the most representative sample from the population, particularly if perceptions from more than one jurisdiction are required.

Single person patrols and its relationship to corroborating evidence have also been under-researched. This is arguably an extremely important consideration, as it could potentially influence perceptions of police accountability and legitimacy. To do this, it might require looking at court cases and interviewing police on their experiences of working alone and its impact when they provide evidence. However, it would provide much needed research on such an apparently overlooked consideration when developing single person patrol policies.

The effect of single person patrols on the wellbeing of families is another potential area of research. Such impacts could be considered important considerations when determining single person patrols, yet little has been done to investigate this specifically in relation to single person patrols.

Using the Western Australia Police Service single person patrol policy as a case study

There has been no thorough investigation of single person patrols and their impact on officer safety, efficiency and effectiveness completed in Australia since the 1990s. Many police associations are currently encouraging a reassessment of single person patrols by police organisations.

Western Australia is presently unique in having essentially ceased single person patrols in 2008. A vast jurisdiction with a population of 2,245,057 people (WAPOL 2010), as of June 2010, there were 3,732 police officers in Western Australia, with 160 police stations covering 2,531,573 square kilometres. Of these, 2,523,469 square kilometres (and 123 police stations) are in regional areas (WAPOL 2010). While the experiences and environment of WA Police would not necessarily reflect precisely the policing experiences of other Australian jurisdictions, the WA Police experience of ceasing single person patrols, the lessons learned and the experiences of operational police members would seem to be a useful starting point for a much needed update on single person patrols in Australia.

Despite having to police a vast area with many remote police stations, WA Police, with the agreement of WAPU, has been able to create a policy that has essentially removed single person patrols, with only a few administrative and community duties being conducted alone. Developing a better understanding of the process of how police management and the WAPU worked together to produce a mutually agreed single person patrol policy could in itself prove to be a valuable lesson for other jurisdictions.

However, some caution is required as the WA single officer patrol policy has yet to be formally evaluated. Its viability, and the process by which issues such as cost, effectiveness, efficiency, safety, the need for policing flexibility to deal with emerging contextual changes have been managed, have yet to be tested. Further, it is unclear how effective the policy is ‘on the ground’ and there is a need for demonstrable evidence of success, together with an assessment of the policy from the perspectives of WA Police management, WAPU and police officers. For example, there is a need to determine the extent to which the policy has been followed and in what contexts; there is some anecdotal evidence that the policy has not always been followed (WAPU representative personal communication 9 June 2008). Overall, it would be unwise to adopt such widespread policy change in other jurisdictions without first evaluating whether the WA policy operates effectively in practice, and subsequently, whether the findings are applicable to each jurisdiction’s local policing context.

Any evaluation of the WA policy would clearly require the support of the WA Police. Should an evaluation be supported, a number of issues could be explored by comparing data prior to the ceasing of single person patrols and the subsequent years during which the policy has been in force:

  • Complaints against police—an assessment of any changes in the nature, types and frequency of complaints.
  • Public satisfaction—satisfaction with police service provision, changes in the public or community’s perceptions of safety, changes in community perceptions of the effectiveness of police responses, assessment of community awareness of the changes in police patrols—that is, has the public noticed a difference in policing?
  • Costs—estimating the increased cost of police operations as a result of ceasing single person patrols. If increased funding has been required with the cessation of single person patrols, has this been offset by increased revenue, or has the increased cost led to reductions in other policing services? If so, what has been the effect on overall service delivery?
  • Safety—assessment of any impact (positive or negative) on officer safety and wellbeing since the introduction of the ban on single person patrols? Changes to the nature and types of reported injuries sustained by police and/or alleged offenders or members of the public. In essence, have there been any OH&S implications since the introduction of the policy?
  • Efficiency—assessment of changes in police response and arrest rates
  • Police satisfaction—are police officers satisfied with the single person patrol policy? Does this policy make them feel safer at work and/or less stressed? Does the policy work well in practice (police member perceptions)? Has the change in policy affected other areas of police work or life outside of work (eg are family members happier now that members do not patrol alone, or has there been no impact?)

Some of the information required (eg complaint numbers) could be sourced from available publications, such as annual reports. However, as some of the key performance indicators used by police when comparing single and two person patrols (eg police response times) may not be appropriate measures of satisfaction and efficiency (Fleming & Rhodes 2004), further work will be required to develop more appropriate evaluation measures.

A more powerful evaluation model would involve a comparison of WA Police’s experiences with one or more other jurisdictions’ experiences of single person patrols. Clearly, the findings of such an evaluation would need to be interpreted by taking into account the crime and population context of each jurisdiction and be cognisant of the different laws and operational policing structures in operation. For example, to use Western Australia once again, WA Police has adopted a ‘frontline first’ policy that emphasises increased visibility of police through community policing (WAPOL 2010). This operational focus could:

  • be a significant factor in the success or otherwise of their single person patrol policy; or
  • affect some of the factors used to measure the influence of WA’s single person patrol policy, such as number of complaints.

Factors that can influence future research into single person patrols

As with any research, pursuing one or more of the research issues identified in this report will be dependent on the financial and other resources available, the level of support of police agencies to undertake such a project and accessibility of available police data.

A first option for improving the current understanding of the issues and factors associated with the use of single person patrols would be to conduct more in-depth examination of secondary data sources, which was not possible for this report. This could include a more thorough examination of court cases and transcripts of cases that involved a single person patrol, annual report data, or approaches to police agencies to request access to information on a specific topic relating to single person patrols (eg cost effectiveness, safety etc) although there is no guarantee that such access will be approved.

Overall, given the general paucity of information on single person patrols, directing resources towards developing new primary research projects designed to specifically address some of the many gaps identified in this review may prove more fruitful in significantly improving knowledge of the effectiveness and safest application of single person patrols in Australian policing contexts.