Soaring gasoline prices are forcing local police departments to send officers out on foot patrols in an effort to cut back on the time scout cars patrol the streets.
In Montgomery County, officers "take 10," parking their cars 10 minutes each hour to walk the streets. In Prince George's County, they park 20 minutes each hour and patrol by foot. In Fairfax and the District of Columbia, an hour or more of each eight-hour shift is set aside to send foot patrols into high-crime areas.
The Arlington and Alexandria police departments don't require officers to patrol on foot for any set period of time, but both have begun other gasoline conservation measures. Both departments, for instance, are doing more and more follow-up work by telephone.
Department officials and the officers involved are not sure what impact the foot patrols will have on crime. Some say they will hamper the police's ability to respond quickly to crimes or conduct investigations, but others say that increased contact with the community can only help the crime-fighting effort.
The D.C. police department is the latest to jump on the conservation bandwagon. Last month, it ordered squad cars, patrol wagons, K-9 units and even some supervisors to help cut the department's gasoline consumption by 15 percent through foot patrols, according to Issac Fulwood, the department's finance and management inspector.
But D.C. budget analysts are not sure that will be enough to meet the police department's gasoline budget through September, the end of the 1980 fiscal year.
Last year, when the price of gasoline was well under what it is now, the department used 1.5 million gallons of gasoline. This year only $1.1 million has been budgeted for gasoline costs.
Amid the city's over-all budget crisis, the police department is looking to Congress for extra money to cover the gasoline costs, according to a department budget analyst. Otherwise, futher cuts in travel may be necessary. d
In Prince George's County, foot patrols have reduced gasoline consumption by the department's 650-vehicle patrol fleet by nearly 7 percent since last April, a police spokesman said. Costs also were cut by limiting the use of air conditioners, prohibiting officers from driving police cars to college programs outside the county and warning officers not to idle their car engines except for safety reasons during emergency calls or to control the temperature of K9 vehicles.
Fairfax police officers went to the streets last September to "intermingle with the community" and cut gasoline costs. They reaped improved police-community relations in return, police spokesman Warren Carmichael said.
Foot patrols "encourage citizens to talk to police and report suspicious circumstance," he said.
District police officials agree.
"In the '60s, the philosophy of most law enforcement services was to step up response to calls," said assistant D.C. police chief Maurice Turner Jr.
As a result, the District transformed its police force at that time from a system of foot patrol officers to an almost completely motorized system, Turner said.
Doing so, "I think they lost a lot of day-to-day contact with the public. Information is not flowing freely now," Turner said.
A robbery investigator echoed Turner, saying, "When I was a footman, I knew everybody on the beat. Then I got assigned to a scout car and I lost contact with everybody. Let's face it. Some guys, if they don't have anything to do, . . . they'll just ride around."
Turner said the conversation program would not mean a loss of service.
Yet with a 11 percent increase in crime in the District, some officers question the soundness of the move.
"The citizens might feel safer with the footmen but if I hear a run four or five blocks away I know it wouldn't be worth it for me to respond," said 1st District officer John William Wilson. "The farthest scout car could get there quicker than I could."
Also affected by the conservation program are plainclothes officers in the criminal Investigation Division.
They have been ordered to use Metro when possible, encourage witnesses to use their own transportation and to follow up cases by telephone as much as possible.
Several investigators have balked at the order. Others said they just tend to ignore them.
"If I was a victim of a robbery, or a member of my family had been murdered, I certainly wouldn't think it was very professional for a policeman to call me up on the telephone and ask me about it," said one robbery squad sergeant.
In Montgomery County, criminal investigation officers have also been ordered to reduce their driving by 20 percent, if possible, and Police Chief Bernard Crooke has purposed cutting back the number of administrative vehicles from 90 to 40 cars, said Nancy Moses, a county spokesman.
And that's just the beginning.
Major Tom McDonald, coordinator of the Montgomery County conservation program, said the police department is also considering expanding telephone reporting, doubling up officers in cars on the midnight shift, and restricting the use of take home patrol vehicles.
In the District, Fulwood said the department plans to reduce the size of its fleet by 20 percent and buy cars with smaller engines in the future.
The department also plans to limit the amount of gasoline each vehicle receives monthly, Fulwood said.
"From the administrative staff to the officers, everybody will feel the pinch," Fulwood promised. Already "some of the administrators are riding the bus or doubling up in cars. The infectious atmosphere is we've got to reduce gasoline consumption and be more conscious of saving, period."