Knowing the Turf—Walking and Driving the Beat
A person can live in a community all of their life and be familiar with every street and thoroughfare. They can know the names of every store and factory, where every municipal building and facility might be, where the river runs, and where every fishing hole in town is. But no matter how familiar a person might be with their community, they'll never know it the way a police officer does. In fact, after a year, the average police officer knows the town they work in better than many life-long residents. The reason is fairly simple: law enforcement officers view their community from a different perspective, and have a freedom of movement that average citizens don't have. Also, knowing the beat is among the best ways of ensuring officer survival.
Officers should physically drive or walk the beat to grasp where things are. Although most exploration is done during on-duty hours, it's a good idea for you to spend some off-duty time touring the beat as well. The best time for establishing landmarks is during the daylight hours, which are not always the hours to which new officers will be assigned.
Hand Checking Businesses
In cities and towns throughout the country, police departments perform what is considered a service to the local business community. Police officers on patrol hand check the doors and windows of the local businesses on nights and weekends to make sure the buildings are secure. This is a difficult task to do from a vehicle, and requires that officers get out of the car and walk. Although this can be a burden during inclement or extremely cold weather, it's a necessary function. After a few months of checking the same doors over and over again, officers sometimes become disenchanted with this task. When they find the same businesses unlocked night after night, they may say to themselves, “Why should I care about the place when the owner doesn't?”
The hand checking of business doors is not just about making sure the building is secure. There are two other purposes that serve the cause of law enforcement that have nothing to do with the business itself. The first is that officers can discover criminal activity before the business owner does. It's better for the department's image to call the shopkeeper in the middle of the night to tell them they are a burglary victim than to have the shopkeeper call the next day and want to know what the police department was doing all night. The second reason has to do with officer survival, in the event that they must pursue a suspect in the area of those businesses. It is important for the officer to know where each doorknob is in order to pursue a suspect quickly. It is also vital for the officer to know what is around those doors and what obstacles might get in the way while they are pursuing a fleeing felon on foot.
Reasons to Know Your Jurisdiction
Getting to know the jurisdiction is more than learning the streets and businesses, understanding the distance in ground and air miles between cities, and knowing how long it would take to get from one point to another. Geography is more than a simple catalog of landmarks, it is having specific and accurate knowledge of the topography, the nooks and crannies, and the geographic factors that limit or restrict movement. Knowing that there is only one bridge across a small river in the jurisdiction in which an officer works is vital. Understanding grades in the road, where logging trails go that have long been derelict, knowing that an open field has no crevices or obstacles that would thwart vehicle movement and could be used as an avenue of escape is information that a seasoned agent keeps in his arsenal. Knowing that a particular building in town has a second hidden basement or an area that is blocked off by a secret door is certainly useful information under the right circumstances, but knowing where a road goes and what it looks like from one end to the other is useful on a regular basis.
There is only one way to acquire the detailed insight into topography that law enforcement officials need to efficiently perform their jobs—they must acquire it firsthand. Driving the beat, walking the beat, and living within the beat are absolutely the best way to get to know it. It takes time and patience to amass an understanding of the land, but it can sometimes mean the difference between a swift conclusion to a situation, or a failed attempt. It can occasionally even mean the difference between life and death.