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Columns : In My Sights

Spring Forward, Fall Back

Time zone differences can wreak havoc with police reports and more.

December 28, 2010  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author


For most Americans the only time they think about "time" is when they go through the annual ritual of adjusting their clocks to conform to the phenomenon called "Daylight Saving Time." Being from Arizona, this was not a ritual I observed growing up. Arizonans chose to opt out of this little exercise and are forever on our beloved Mountain Standard Time.

Tourists often confuse this with Pacific Daylight Time, as they are forever saying, "Oh, that's right, you're on the same time as California." This simple statement during a traffic stop could often turn a nice little warning into a full-blown citation. Nothing in Arizona is the same as California! It is just a coincidence that Mountain Standard Time is the same time as Pacific Daylight Time, but California is on Pacific Time and Arizona is definitely NOT. The only thing we might have in common is the conference our colleges play in.

I lived with the above certainty until the day I had to "spring" forward while working on the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo Nation is bigger than some states and spans parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, as well as Arizona and therefore it does do the "daylight" thing with rest of the country, so...

All Tribal paperwork including citations had to be on daylight time and all Arizona paperwork had to be on MST, which also made for interesting moments of confusion. My DPS radio based in Flagstaff gave all its time on MST, my Tribal radio gave all its time on Daylight time, and something as simple as coordinating a meeting in Chinle with officers from Holbrook (MST) and officers working the "Res" (MDT) could turn into an odd confusion of folks showing up an hour early or an hour late, depending on how well the communications had been done.

Now let's have some fun. You have a two-car non-injury accident in Teec Nos Pos, and one vehicle is a Native American and one a non-Native American. "Ah," you say. "Just use one time for whomever gets the citation." Wrong.

You have tribal (MDT) and non-tribal citations (MST) but the accident is on US 160 and goes on an Arizona accident report (MST) and just as you are writing the citation to the fellow from Oklahoma (MST) who failed to yield he says, "You know, my grandmother is a Cherokee princess so I'm an Indian, too (MDT)!" Get the picture?

The funny thing is most Americans can't even name the time zone they live in much less understand why they are changing their clocks twice a year, and they have to ask the flight attendant what time it is wherever they've just landed. Conversely, the officers working on the Navajo Reservation had to make a conscious effort to make sure their times were correctly noted on the legal documents we call citations, timesheets, and reports. I got into the habit of just putting "MST" or "MDT" on every time code mentioned in every report, which I am sure made the records folks wonder, "What happens to those folks working the reservation and why do they get so weird about time?"

We weren't weird about time; time was weird with us! I was thinking about all this while reading a book about our relationship with time by Philip Zimbardo called "The Time Paradox." He has a fascinating premise that we can improve our outlook on life by the way we view time and its relationship with our lives. I truly agree, but wish he had talked to me first, since I think I would like to share some of my thoughts on time and what a pain it can be-not just how it passes, but how we perceive it.

Living on the Navajo Reservation was filled with other odd and fascinating paradoxes. For instance, when I patrolled the Four Corners Monument I drove through four states in 10 seconds! But that's a story for another "time."

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.

Tags: Police Humor


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