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The alcohol‐related workload of patrol officers

Brad A. Myrstol (Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, Alaska, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 2 March 2012




The purpose of this paper is to detail the prevalence and nature of patrol officers' alcohol‐related workload.


A systematic social observation (SSO) methodology was used to collect data pertaining to the alcohol‐related activities and encounters of patrol officers. A fully randomized sampling procedure was used to select the days, times, and geographic areas of observation sessions. Observational data were obtained for 65 separate observations sessions ‐ totaling approximately 650 hours, 480 police‐citizen encounters, with 766 citizens, and 2,009 non‐encounter activities.


Approximately 26 percent of encounters and 10 percent of non‐encounter activities involved citizen alcohol use. Roughly 15 percent of patrol officer time is dedicated to alcohol‐related encounters and their associated activities. Alcohol‐related encounters were of a substantively different type than those in which there was no alcohol involvement. In sum, alcohol‐related encounters were more likely to involve a crime, occur in emotionally volatile situations, elicit a multiple‐officer response, and to take place out of the public sphere.

Practical implications

The paper demonstrates the utility of police‐researcher collaboration. The findings can make a direct contribution to academy and in‐service training.


Unlike previous SSO studies, this research used data obtained from a representative sample of police patrols. The use of a SSO protocol provides a level of detail about the nature of police‐citizen interactions within the context of alcohol‐related encounters not previously seen in the literature.



Myrstol, B.A. (2012), "The alcohol‐related workload of patrol officers", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 55-75.



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