As with every municipal law enforcement agency in the United States, we have several different sections, or divisions, that are responsible for providing a variety of different police services. Those divisions are usually referred to by titles like Investigations, Support Services, Code Enforcement, and Patrol. Each one plays a vital role in the law enforcement agency enhancing its ability to provide a higher quality of service to the community it represents. Unlike the other divisions of police services, the Patrol Division encompasses the largest and most diverse area of responsibility. These responsibilities are also some of the most visible and essential to the community. It requires that the Patrol Division consistently function with the highest degree of professionalism and integrity at all times.
You can ask almost anyone what they think a police officer is, or what they do. You would find that, for the most part, the answers you get would be similar. It seems that when people think of a police officer (a cop) they just see a person in a uniform that has a badge, carries a gun, and drives a car with all kinds of decals and bright lights.
In the same instance, if you ask someone, what do police officers do? You may also get a variety of answers ranging from writing speeding tickets, to chasing tail lights, arresting drunk drivers, chasing bad guys, or looking for burglars. They might also simply tell you that the police officer (the cop) is the one who comes to help them when they call 911. That's right. As simple as it may seem, almost everything that a person would think a police officer is, or does, completely describes a Patrol Officer and their duties.
Although some of the descriptions you might get are very vague, there is a definitive role that Patrol plays within the law enforcement agency. Of course, there are many more intricate details and responsibilities that are assigned and undertaken strictly by the Patrol Division.
However, that being said, the first primary responsibility of the Patrol Division is deterrence. This is referred to as the ability to prevent a crime from taking place by the simple fact of having a visible police presence. This can be accomplished by just having the police vehicle, with the "decals and bright lights," driving around, easily recognized by the public. The same can be said for the police officer in uniform who can easily be recognized in a crowd, or on the street. The presence of a police officer or a police vehicle provides a sense of security to the public and at the same time, persuades a potential criminal from taking action for fear of being caught.
The second primary responsibility of the Patrol Division is to provide education to the community. There are several ways in which this is accomplished. The Patrol Division is tasked with teaching classes to other law enforcement officers and to the public, performing emphasis patrols, and providing information to citizens and local businesses. Programs like Community Policing, Neighborhood Watch, and other crime prevention programs enable the public to take an active part in the protection of their own neighborhoods, properties, and families.
The most visible and critical responsibility of the Patrol Division is enforcement. The Patrol Division is tasked with insuring that Florida State Law and Motor Vehicle Code, as well as local ordinances are enforced. The Patrol Officer is also primarily the one who is responsible for issuing citations and making arrests for misdemeanor and felony violations of law. Responding to calls for service falls into this area and most of the time some sort of enforcement action is taken. Unfortunately, the officer can not always know what needs to be done until they arrive.
It's easy to see why this is the most critical area of responsibility. It is the most dangerous for the individual officer. Extensive training and experience is needed for officers to properly handle some of the situations and take an appropriate level of enforcement action. Any one of these circumstances surrounding the issuance of a citation, or making an arrest, can become volatile. Worst of all, there could be an injury or death involved. Improper or inappropriate actions can result in civil or criminal actions against the officer, the agency, or the municipality.
In a small agency like ours we are required to develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities to help us deal with almost any circumstance. That can be a great benefit to the officer. It provides an opportunity to gain experience and training in a wide number of different areas. Training and experience can be gained in fields such as Tactical Team Operations, Bike Patrol, Marine Patrol, etc. In a larger department it would take years to work into these fields. Our Patrol Officers are allowed to gain experience in most any area they choose. If they are interested in becoming an expert in a certain area every effort is made to accommodate them.