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Departments : Best Practices For...

The Threat of Technology

Gadgets are great, but you still need essential skills to stay safe.

July 11, 2011  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Photo: Amaury Murgado.

People who use the words officer safety and survival fall into two camps: the serious and the dismissive. Those who take officer safety seriously tend to stay on top of trends, work within an overall strategy, and are flexible in matching their tactics with the situation. These officers are usually the proactive ones who are seldom recognized for their efforts. They are informal leaders and avid trainers. The dismissive ones are the complete opposite.

Those in the dismissive camp gamble with their lives on a daily basis by ignoring the basic tenets of officer safety and survival. They make it easier to become a victim or a casualty. They put others at risk because they have no strategy and use poor tactics. These are the officers that consistently duck training but are first in line when it comes to going to lunch. They value time off with the family and yet seldom do anything to ensure that they get back to them safely.

Officer safety remains a paramount concern even if some choose to ignore it. Many agencies spend a great deal of time, energy, and money on the high liability aspects of the job. Their officers routinely shoot, practice combatives, and work on their emergency driving skills. However, the same agencies ignore the everyday and less appreciated threats and distractions. We are losing our basic skills by relying too much on modern toys to do our jobs for us. In today's world, one of the biggest unrecognized threats to officer safety and survival is technology.

Digital Distractions

There is no denying that the use of technology has made an officer's life more efficient. But that efficiency has come at an overlooked price: compromising aspects of the officer's safety. The down side to technology is that it creates an inherent loss in environmental awareness.

Take for example the use of in-car Mobile Data Computers (MDC). With an MDC, you have easy access to law enforcement databases at the local, state, and federal levels. The problem is not with information but in how you obtain it. In order to understand where I am coming from, you first have to ask, "Am I at a complete stop at a traffic light, safely parked completing a report, or am I driving and typing while accessing the information?"

As a watch commander, I sometimes had to handle citizen complaints about officers swerving on the road (even going off the road). The complainant was driving behind an officer and it was obvious to the driver that the officer's attention was on his computer instead of on driving. I don't have any research to show how many crashes have involved MDCs as a contributing factor, nor am I even sure anyone tracks MDC use that way. Regardless, the potential for disaster remains high.

The MDC has become a crutch for expediency. More importantly, it has helped make some officers soft in their safety and survival skills. Officers play more and more license tag bingo while they drive. Using their radio is becoming archaic. I know of an agency that has stopped allowing license plates to be run on the radio as they prefer them run on the MDC instead. While it's not practical or even advisable to not use your MDC or in-car computer, it's important to use it as safely as possible. Do what you can to keep your eyes on the road.

Cell Phones

What agency doesn't have a policy restricting cell phone use while driving? And yet you can see officers and command staff alike using them while they drive. There is research galore on the dangers of cell phone use while driving. Still, we are all guilty of it; I am no exception. But we are hypocrites as we complain when other people do it. I guess we feel we have special skills that civilians don't. And while we're at it, let's be honest with ourselves and look at how much of our phone use is business and just how much of it is personal.

As if talking on the phone weren't bad enough, there is an even worse distraction (more like addiction) while driving: texting. At least if you use your phone like a phone, you can still see the road while driving. Unfortunately, texting leaves you clueless. 

For the sake of argument, let's say that the use of a phone is not a driving issue. The fact remains that the phone still distracts you and splits your attention. You are apt to miss cues that would otherwise alert you to danger. It might be nice to see the car running a stop sign before it hits you.

Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

Tom @ 7/11/2011 5:53 PM

In addition to what is mentioned in this article, I would add that officers should be discouraged from typing reports on their car computer. Going home in one piece trumps any possible time benefit. Looking down and being distracted, especially with this unprecedented assault on law enforcement in this country, is not wise if you value your survival.

DEADMAN @ 7/11/2011 6:10 PM

There should be strict adherance to no cell phone use while moving and no cell phone use in response to calls.One of the biggest problems of cell phone use is the command structure calling the ptls,sgts,and lts on the road with cell phones,call radio,have radio notify that officer to landline the command structure,meaning,park it then call. we had no phone use and when i called out with a suspected agg burglary in progress,my back-up called radio by cell from a restaurant they never left,the sgt.,tried to write me up for arresting two suspects that wouldn't wait for my back-up and exited the building ten minutes later,no attempt to admonish sgt.for not having control or back-up for not responding.

MDT,don't use when you are alone with suspect(s),street survival tells you to keep your eyes focused on suspect,subject.

If ECD doesn't work the first or second time,time to resort to hands on,preferably with back-up,spread-eagle and handcuff with back-up either assisting or ready with ECD.If a person is inebriated or under the influence,it changes that persons metabolism,alcohol and other drugs can change a person into being a walking,talking 6 ft wet cell battery and your ECD can change that into being a battery with all dead cells,inspite of what the manufacturer says.Alcohol is used by auto companies as a coolant agent and drugs can alter your electrolytes.If you have four or five officers standing around a subject on camera,get dirty,put him down on the ground,handcuff him,put him in cruiser,game over,use your training.There are come alongs,put downs and all kinds of trainging out there for your benefit and the publics,use them.I never used a taser,and pepper spray only twice,i preferred to use my mind and my hands,everybody went home,it is not open season and leave your cell phones in your pocket or at home.You didn't need them 15 years ago,you don't need them now,you have dispatchers to help carry the load.

DaveSAM25G @ 8/8/2011 9:43 PM

Excellent!!! And now we know why they call this (Best Practices-because they are)! Technology cannot work without the human but the human can work without the technology, but technology distractions = bad safety practices as spelled out here. I know a post this way that had a sensor that sets off an alarm when the field is breeched but you got to remember to turn it on that's the human side...I see this everyday where lives are in peril because of cell phone, text messaging etc...All actions have a consequence - whether it's a good one or a bad one, you play a major part...In order to stay safe you must stay aware and senses need to be in the field of play and taking place!

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