While reading the comments regarding a recent post on patrol partners, K-9 constable and blogger extraordinaire Sandra Glendinning reminded me that my discussion on two-officer units was not as relevant outside the US--as partners in policing are the norm in many other places.
She also said this:
...Sometimes I relished the opportunity to work alone, if only for a brief change of scenery...Her discussion on partners made me think: If given the choice, would US patrol officers prefer to ride solo or be assigned to a partner?
Selecting a partner is serious business - in my career I've only had four, which may seem like a lot, but each partnership ended when one of us was transferred to another section. Each of my partners was like an extension of myself - in one case, the two of us shared a form telepathy (not kidding...). And because I spent more time with my partner than I did my spouse, it was very important to ensure we got along...
My personal thoughts were that officers did prefer to work alone, but I started with the research literature and found several studies that examined this issue. In sum, officers assigned to solo units were determined to respond to calls faster, and have the same risk of assault as two officer units.
Also, studies like one of the San Diego Police Department in 1977 (Boydstun et. al), found that one-officer units made more arrests and were, in general, more productive than two-officer cars. As a result of such studies and the cost savings involved, one-officer units are more commonly used in the US.
Two studies addressed officer perceptions of unit assignment. The same San Diego study determined that officer's felt safer and more productive in two-officer units in contrast to the research's actual findings.
Another study took a different approach rather than evaluate the question in terms of efficiency (response time, arrests, etc.). In 2003, Alejandro de Carmen and Lori Guevara studied a small sample of officers in a metropolitan police department in Texas. They measured the perceptions of officers as to one and two officer units. In contrast to the San Diego study of 1977, they found that officers believed, in general, that they would perform the same no matter the assignment. Also, the officers agreed that two-person units were necessary in some instances, but largely preferred being assigned to a solo unit.
And, what would a blog positional post be without a completely unscientific poll? I conducted such a poll over at Officer.com and was pleased that 66 respondents took time to vote. Thirty-seven respondents favored riding solo, 24 wanted to have a partner, and 5 did not have a preference. I was surprised that the results were not more in favor of one-officer units, but I think the representatives from larger departments, where partners are common, were well represented in the results.
So, that is convincing, right? I have some limited academic studies in combination with an unscientific poll that supports my assertion that US officers prefer being assigned to solo units. In contrast, to the literature, I think the officer arguments in favor of solo units are primarily unrelated to police work (productivity and safety), and have more to do with personal preference. I believe that officers would prefer the freedom that riding alone provides, rather than having to entertain someone else for a shift on a regular basis.
I think the time difference in the San Diego and Texas studies supports this thinking. In 1977, partner policing was commonly used and shifting to solo units would have been a drastic change to the norm. In contrast, Texas officers in 2003 were used to riding solo and having a partner represented, for the most part, the drastic change.
With all of my efforts in exploring officer preferences for assignment, I think I have simplified reinforced one long-standing reality in policing: that officers are resistant to change (Argh...) and that such planned alterations should be backed with evidence and given time before any of the expected results can be obtained.