The “Directive Patrol” – a true tale of community policing

How many of you have ever listened to the Memphis Police scanner online? It can be an illuminating experience for those who are curious about what Memphis Police officers and dispatchers face on a daily basis. Listening to the fast pace of calls, the number of officers who log off at the end of one shift and then immediately back on for a second shift, as well as the number of calls that are “holding” – waiting for an officer to become available to respond – during busy periods drives home the real-life consequences of having too few officers available at any one given time to fully execute a community policing strategy.

One does not need to be a police commander or a criminologist to understand that policing works best when done proactively. When officers are available to truly patrol the community instead of running from call to call, they can identify and respond to suspicious activity before a situation escalates or someone gets hurt. Having officers visibly patrolling the entire community also has a tremendous deterrent effect. It can lead to amazing results, as in the case of a so-called “directive patrol” at an apartment complex earlier this month.

A ”directive patrol” is a request from a business or homeowner for additional police patrols through their property when an officer is in the area. The manager at a SafeWays Certified apartment complex in East Memphis had a sense that something was amiss at her property. The crime data didn’t reflect any serious problems, but because of an increase in property crimes in the surrounding area, and her feeling of unease, she called her police precinct and requested directive patrols.

And so it was that at 3 am on a Saturday morning, an MPD officer performed a directive patrol through the apartment complex. As he drove through, he observed a car parked in a handicapped space in front of one of the apartment buildings. The car didn’t appear to have a handicapped tag or placard. The officer got out of his cruiser to take a closer look, and as he approached the car, he observed a mason jar full of marijuana sitting in plain view on the passenger’s seat.

When the officer asked dispatch to run the tag on the vehicle, it came back to an apartment in the building it was parked in front of. Officers knocked on the apartment door. The tenant came to the door, along with her boyfriend, who had been convicted of felony possession of marijuana with intent to sell in 2015 and was on probation. The apartment and car were searched with the leaseholder’s consent. So was the man, since persons on probation are subject to search at any time. The searches revealed the man to be in possession of a large amount of cocaine, dozens of ecstasy pills, over $1,000 in cash, and two semiautomatic handguns (which as a convicted felon, he is prohibited from possessing), plus the mason jar of marijuana. Of course he was arrested, and the tenant will be evicted for allowing her apartment to be used for illegal activity.

As a result of one phone call to the police requesting directed patrols, a man with no regard for the law is off of the streets today, but the more important thing is that a potential catastrophe was averted. Those who deal in drugs and large amounts of cash are frequently targeted by competitors or others who want to take their drugs or money, which can lead to terrible consequences for themselves or bystanders, especially in an apartment environment where a large number of people are housed in a relatively small area. This man’s arrest that Saturday morning would not have happened had it not been for the manager’s intuition, the directive patrol request, and the officer having a free moment to drive through and look for suspicious activity. We might never have known about the illegal activity in the apartment unless or until something terrible happened.

The point is this: our police are most effective when they have time to patrol proactively, rather than responding to calls concerning crimes that have already occurred. Our police force is incredibly short-staffed, which severely constrains their ability to patrol proactively. Too many citizens think of this is a pure budget/staffing problem which they as individuals can’t do anything about. This is incorrect. Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings is absolutely right when he says (as he does often), that the community’s help is needed to prevent and reduce crime in Memphis. But how can we help? What can individual citizens do to reduce and prevent crime? One easy way every Memphian can help is to implement crime prevention practices at their homes and businesses.

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design – also known as “CPTED” – has been proven to be extremely effective in preventing crime and increasing residents’ perceptions of safety. CPTED is our specialty at SafeWays. It is one of the primary tools we use to make apartment communities safer. CPTED principles are effective in any setting – homes, schools, churches, businesses, hospitals, etc. If CPTED became a universal practice in Memphis, crime would be reduced and our officers would have more time to engage in the type of proactive community policing that led to the arrest described above. Imagine how much safer we all would be!

We will be exploring CPTED concepts here over the coming weeks, with tips about steps every property owner can take to prevent crime, feel safer, and help free up police resources to do more community policing. Watch this space, and follow SafeWays!