I walked into the squad room the other day and what did I observe? It was an in-depth discussion on the latest in technology being used by young officers. Am I with the "Geek Squad" or a police squad? Now, I am not trying to sound old school or be the ultimate purist of police work, but some reality must set in now.
Everyone either already has or desires a built-in or portable navigational device of some sort. They are even available now on your cell phones. I know some road officers are actually using them on patrol. Now, stop and wait a moment. Yes, they are great but there is a little too much technological short cutting going on here and this is a large safety issue.
First of all, your FTO training and your first few formative years on the streets are the years where you should learn your beat and jurisdiction. Yes, these devices have a place: a transport to another county jail, attending court or training in another city, or helping a lost motorist. But in your early years you must learn your turf, no short cuts.
Your safety and tactical advantages cannot be compromised either. If you become too self-reliant on a GPS, what happens when you are in a pursuit (vehicle or foot) and you find yourself in trouble? Say you need to reach for the microphone to tell dispatch you need help. They ask for your 10-20 (location) and you do not know where you are. This is what I am talking about; you must know your city.
Now the driving safety facts. If you are driving your patrol car and you are looking at a small screen, for example on a cell phone, you are distracting yourself from your mission. That mission is to safely operate a motor vehicle and traverse your beat without drama. There are far too many "cockpit distractions" that cops have to deal with. Radios, audio-visual warning systems, radar, and do not forget the usual distraction—the other motorists!
Far too many cops are dying and countless are getting injured from needless motor vehicle collisions. Notice I said collision, not accident. You can prevent some of these collisions with a little safety added in. If you are propelling yourself down the highway, the last thing you need to be doing is fiddling with your MDT or squinting at a screen. Pay attention; this is your safety here.
Even More Technology
I am not going to even get into PDAs and other little niceties of life The technology is evolving so fast by the time I rate one a better one is on the market. Most of you know that I am a low-tech guy who is trapped in a high-tech world, so some shut me off. But I have but one logical question. Do you know how to operate without all the electronic gadgets? What is your plan if the batteries are low or you erase the information? Just as long as you have a real backup plan, I am good with you.
One department I visited a few years back provided portable data assistants for officers to use. Most used them instead of field notebooks. Great, but these PDAs guided officers through the reports, indicating the data required. Just as long as they do not forget and become too gadget reliant, I am fine with that.
Personally, I still have my old leather covered field notepad that fits into my shirt pocket. It worked in the early '80s and still does for me.
I know I am old school, but we must not forget the skills of the job. We must have reasonable plans for what I call "but, what if" thinking and safety. So, if you forget the complainant's middle name, apartment number, or you miss an exit, the PDA screen can reveal it has been omitted. This can be a good thing. Just as long as you do it safely and remember how to be a cop, you will be fine.
Train hard and train smart….train with real meaning.