Are foot patrols the right step?

Foot patrols by police may be popular with the public, but are they the most efficient use of limited resources?

The appearance of uniformed police officers walking the streets of Chilliwack drew cheers last week.

On Tuesday, RCMP superintendent Deanne Burleigh  told city councillors the foot patrols were part of a fluid and aggressive campaign aimed at a blossoming crime rate.

Incidents of crime have risen dramatically over the past year: theft from vehicles is up 57 per cent,  property crime up 33 per cent, and weapons offences a soaring 114 per cent.

The fact violent crime is more prevalent among those engaged in a riskier lifestyle is no solace to a community shocked by recent violence.

And even though property crime falls outside what is typically called serious, it is hardly victimless. Theft from a vehicle, or the violation of a home can devastate an individual’s sense of security and confidence in the community he or she calls home.

For many, the addition of foot patrols will help maintain – or regain – that sense of security.

There’s something nostalgic about a cop walking the beat, chatting with shopkeepers, greeting neighbours and admonishing malefactors.

But frankly, those days are over. They died on the streets of Moncton, where three RCMP officers were shot to death and another two injured; in Mayerthorpe where four officers were gunned down; in Ottawa and Quebec City where uniformed soldiers were killed in apparent terror attacks.

Those incidents have changed the way police engage with the community they’re paid to protect.

And rightly so.

While we may draw comfort from an officer patrolling the streets, none of us would want someone harmed in a effort to provide us with the illusion of security.

Because it is an illusion. Foot patrols are one of the least effective ways to use a highly skilled, and well trained police resource.

For one, uniformed officers won’t be patrolling alone; reality no longer allows it. They will be in groups of two or three, like what we saw last week.

Even then, they will be away from their vehicles – away from the computer terminals that provide them far more information than their radio ever could, and away from the vehicle that could take them swiftly to an emergency across town.

The reality is, if we want foot patrols we will have to pay for them. We will need to increase police spending to provide additional resources so patrols can be done safely, and gaps not created elsewhere.

But before that happens, we need evidence that this is the best way to spend that money.