Good street cops understand the importance of knowing their beats. Effective street cops understand but, go way beyond and learn the about the people, geography and routines which define their beats. These cops don’t merely patrol nor just provide omnipresence, they pay attention, they learn, they analyze, and they use all this information to protect the people and businesses in their beats.
We have all heard, “Knowledge is Power!”, but do we all adhere to it? Knowledge, and the time and effort to acquire it, can be time-consuming and hard work. Make no mistake: it’s worth it!
THE INSIDE JOB
Having the experience of being physically inside local businesses, back alleys, and apartment buildings provides a tactical edge. Someday you may have to chase a fleeing suspect who runs into one of these local businesses or apartment buildings. Or, you may be called upon to respond to a hot call there.
Good street cops learn the local businesses and who works there. They learn the layouts of the back alleys, common hideouts, drug locations and other places that will, most likely, be visited later during a call for service or crime in progress.
Good street cops do their best to become familiar with store clerks, store hours, and “the norm” of those stores. Familiarization with caretakers and business owners, as well as the times when the gates are closed or open, is important. They get to know landlords, superintendents of buildings, and other local citizens, especially those whom they may be dealing with on a regular basis.
Let me illustrate the importance of learning your beat.
WAR STORY #1
During daytime uniform patrol in an NYPD patrol car, my partner and I were working in one of Brooklyn’s transitional neighborhoods filled with burned out and abandoned buildings. Some were being refurbished and turned into co-ops and condos.
We observed a man cleaning the ground floor windows of a low-income apartment building. The windows were located in a side-alley. There was nothing unusual on this hot summer’s day about a building’s ‘super’ cleaning windows with a bottle of spray cleaner and a roll of paper towels. He even waived to us like he knew us.
However, there was something unusual about this guy. We personally knew the super of the building, Mr. Sanchez, and this was definitely not him. Maybe it was a temporary maintenance worker hired for the summer, I thought, but that thought didn’t last long. This was a poor neighborhood and building superintendents rarely took vacations and they certainly didn’t hire summer help.
With this in mind, we decided to drive away, park our RMP (NYPD term for patrol car) around the corner and walk back on foot. As we peered around the corner, the fake super was gone. We walked down the alley quietly and noticed that the window closest to where he was standing was now opened. As we got closer, we could see the fake super frantically rummaging through the bedroom furniture of the apartment.
Instead of shouting for him to come out, we hid behind a nearby dumpster and waited. We knew there was an exit for the ground level apartments that emerged into the side alley. Within a few minutes he walked out of the side entrance door to the building holding a pillowcase filled with valuables from the apartment. We jumped out from our hiding spot and arrested him.
The point of the story is this: if we weren’t familiar with many of the precinct’s residents, workers, demographics and more, we probably wouldn’t have given this guy a second look. Knowing the people, the uniqueness, and the layout of our patrol area, has helped us make scores of arrests along with hundreds of friends and useful acquaintances throughout the precinct.
Spending our patrol time discussing the intricate nature of the area, rather than just talking about unrelated nonsense, helped us learn and be effective. Always analyzing people, places, and situations helped us tremendously.
WAR STORY #2
To illustrate another example of the importance of knowing your beat, I want to refer to a police officer I worked with many years ago. He has a reputation as a good cop. However, he didn’t pay much attention to the intricate nature of his beat. He relied more on making drunk driving arrests and handling 911 calls which led to arrests.
He was respectful but not much on interacting with the community. One night on midnight patrol, he stopped off at a local “Stop and Rob” at the beginning of his patrol shift. You know, the local mini mart that gets robbed every once in a while.
He pulled his patrol car into the parking lot and walked into the store to get a cup of coffee. The clerk behind the counter said “hello officer” in a louder than normal tone but with a serious expression on his face. The problem, however, was the officer didn’t know the clerk nor did he know what was his normal.
This night, the clerk behind the counter was part of an armed robbery team which was in the process of robbing the place and had the real clerk in the back tied up. The fake clerk was alerting his partner to the officer’s presence.
The partner, armed with a .45 caliber handgun, joined by the fake clerk who was armed with a .9 mm handgun. They both got the jump on the officer, disarmed him and handcuffed him with his own handcuffs. They fled the store with the store’s cash, the officer’s gun, badge and radio. Later, after being freed, and happy he wasn’t killed, the officer admitted he needs to pay more attention to his beat.
Street cops can do many things to get to know their assigned area and local residents. They won’t be able to get to know everyone by name or even face, but they should do their best to get to know the ones who can help the most or the ones who need the most help.
Landlords, superintendents, merchants, street vendors, convenience store clerks, delivery persons and even homeless, fit the categories of those who can help and those who need the most help. They are often on the receiving end of crime and can be the most cop-friendly and willing to provide intelligence. Familiarization with the type of people, times of travel, commuters and areas within the community, can be very useful.
LISTEN MORE THAN YOU TALK
The best way to get to know your beat and the people who live and work there is to mingle. That means to get the hell out of your patrol car and talk with people. And better than that, listen! People, at least the law-abiding ones, love to talk to cops. Unfortunately, many cops aren’t great listeners. These cops are often in a hurry or looking at their watches and lack the necessary patience and people skills. Don’t be that way!
Today, it is exponentially more important to be observant and know your beats. Even more important, is positive interaction with the community, especially those who support and praise you. There are not too many of those around.
Shouldn’t cops be proactive in cultivating relationships with as many people on their beat as possible? I think so – it could save your life, one day!
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
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