What famous partnerships can you recall from television police shows? How about Starsky and Hutch or Cagney and Lacey? Do Ponch and Jon from CHiPs sound familiar? Going back a few decades, Malloy and Reed from Adam 12 may bring back pleasant memories.

One of the many misleading images about policing that television has provided for the public is that all police officers have partners. Working in a specific area these "partners" then develop close relationships that transcend into professional and personal lives.

In reality, two officer units are rare. If you see two officers riding together outside of a metropolitan area, you are probably witnessing a field training officer and a new officer receiving direct instruction. Used almost exclusively in large cities, the chances of you encountering a two officer unit in other communities is like finding that four-leaf clover--rare indeed.

The primary reason that two officer units are seldom used is cost. Agencies can allocate personnel more effectively if officers in single cars are able to respond to calls. Also, the more police cruisers in service, the more likely that citizens are to see a patrol unit in operation-—thereby, in theory, reinforcing the idea that a community is safe.

Initially, it was argued that two officer units were able to respond to calls faster than single officer cars, but studies conducted by researchers including David Kessler debunked this myth. Kessler determined that one-officer units consistently arrived faster than partner cars, and offered that peer pressure among responders competing to be on-scene first was a plausible explanation for the findings.

With personnel in single cars responding to calls, officers (except for small departments) will work with a variety of other officers in handling calls. As you can imagine, each officer's approach and style may vary and this can create obstacles in responding to incidents.

The following video is of a police incident in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I first viewed it on The police were called to the location to investigate shots fired, encountered three subjects, and one of them (the man in the video) was determined to be armed.


This video has been used in a variety of ways ranging from for sworn personnel to critique and learn from tactics used by officers in the incident to citizens in assessing whether the force used was appropriate. I think the video is relevant to the above partners discussion in that it shows two officers with very different approaches in dealing with a dangerous situation. Not to say that this is the case in this incident, but unfamilarity among the responders is more likely to result in increased confusion, unless police administrators implement measures to build cohesion among officers.

Since widespread use of two-officer units is economically unfeasible (reducing the reponse consistency that is expected with partners), this incident illustrates the need for police to work together as a team so that personnel can respond uniformly in handling potentially deadly situations.

Fortunately, no one was injured here.


Sandra G. said...

I had not seen this video before, and it was interesting to see how the two officers handled it in their own way.

Here in Canada, two officer patrol cars are a common sight in the larger municipalities, but are a rarity in the smaller suburbs and with the RCMP - for the exact reasons you mentioned. I've worked with a partner for the majority of my career, and have only worked alone when my partner was away or when I was fulfilling the role as the Acting Sgt.

In Vancouver, it's all about officer safety. A one officer unit responding to a violent domestic will wait for an additional unit before going in, so two officer units are the norm.

Now, even though my partner is a police dog, I will still wait for cover on certain calls, particularly if the call is not suitable for the deployment of K9.

Good post.


Slamdunk said...

An excellent point Sandra, and I should have prefaced my commentary with that I was speaking of policing in the United States--and, specifically patrol. As you explain, partners in policing are common in other parts of the world.

I also agree with you that two-officer units provide more safety. Interestingly, if US police officers were polled regarding preferences for one or two person units, I believe that the results would be largely be in favor of being assigned alone to a patrol vehicle.

My reasoning would be that officers assigned as single units enjoy much greater freedom in decision-making, without the compromises that are a necessary component of an effective partnership.

Sandra G. said...

Sometimes I relished the opportunity to work alone, if only for a brief change of scenery.

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.

I've also had the misfortune to work with someone who had a completely different idea on how to go about the workday than I did. Working with him was only a short term thing (as in a week), but it was pure torture. He was a really nice guy, and I quite liked him (and I still do) - but our work styles were like oil and water, and it was better for both of us to work in single officer cars.

Slamdunk said...

"Selecting a partner is serious business.." Good insight Sandra. I wonder if there is a universal truth that could be gleaned from your not-so-good partnering experience in that personalities that may support friendships do not necessarily work in police partnering relationships (maybe something like the opposites attract theory. Hmmm...

Thanks, you have me curious now as to how much effort administrators put into facilitating partner selection as well as with partnering preferences. I'll have to do some research and see what I can find.