Police departments across the country are ordering officers to pair up after ambushes left eight officers dead in Texas and Louisiana, a precaution that could slow response times to low-level crimes and drive up overtime for already exhausted police. Some agencies that normally let officers patrol alone began forcing them to double up throughout their shifts, even during meals or other breaks, the AP reports. Los Angeles police assigned members of specialized crime-fighting units to back up officers responding to routine calls, while Baltimore police began sending two squad cars to every call received. Dispatchers in Denver urged officers to travel in pairs indefinitely and "keep their head on a swivel" to protect themselves. And police in Fort Worth, Texas, extended the order beyond their uniformed officers to plainclothes detectives and high-ranking supervisors. The new safety measures are some of the most intense since the aftermath of 9/11, says Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association.
"You're on the street eight, 10, 12 hours. Remaining with that heightened sense of alertness for that entire time is a pretty big challenge," Stephens says. In some cities, doubling up means less police visibility and geographic coverage on the streets because putting two officers in one car means others stay parked. Two-officer patrols are also difficult to sustain for departments short on money and manpower, says the president of Pittsburgh's police union. Studies are mixed about their effectiveness, and seven of the 51 officers killed in 2014 were in a two-officer vehicle, per FBI stats. But if an officer is shot, a two-person patrol usually ensures the second officer can radio and get help, says a former Baltimore cop who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. And some officers say a strain on resources is worth it to improve officer safety during dangerous times. "When there are two officers, obviously it's double protection for both," says the head of the Milwaukee Police Association union.