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Cover Story

Making Technology Work for You

Don't let the bells and whistles of modern policing get in the way of good old-fashioned tactics.

December 30, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: iStockPhoto.com
Photo: iStockPhoto.com

It's often said that in writing there are no original ideas, only new spins on existing themes. Hollywood appears to be hellbent on driving this point home, with plans to remake a sizable portion of its film library, including "Robocop." Nearly a quarter of a century ago, the movie was released with the tagline, "The future of law enforcement." While we're a far cry from replacing man with machine, technological innovations have vastly improved the safety, speed, and accuracy with which today's patrol officers do their jobs.

Even if we're not covered from head to toe in steel alloys like the cinematic centurion Robocop, our ballistic vests are more comfortable, durable, and dependable. Patrol vehicles are safer, and stocked with computers and cameras. Information and communications are sent and retrieved by the officer in the field with ever greater speed.

"Technology has been a wonderful thing for law enforcement in a number of respects," says Dr. Ron Martinelli, CEO of Martinelli & Associates and noted forensic and police practices expert. "It has provided us with a faster way of doing things: reports, crime analyses, forensics; it enhances our investigative ability and our ability to respond more rapidly to calls for service."

At the same time, Martinelli warns that overuse of technology in the field can detract from officer safety practices. "When you are in the field, especially in a patrol car, situational awareness is critical for your survival, the survival of your partner, and the safety and survival of the citizens that you deal with."

Finding the balance between adopting new technologies and employing well-trained officers who are not overly reliant on them remains a challenge for today's police departments. According to a recent study by the RAND Corporation, "While the role of technology will grow, the true value of technology is as a complement to human capacity for police work and problem solving-not a substitute."

Whether you are one to embrace technology or shy away from it, your ability to navigate the technological landscape will be an important factor in your future success in law enforcement.

Smile, You're on Candid Camera

Chief among cops' technological concerns today is video. The day of the anonymous, faceless Robocop patrol officer is not here yet, and whether you like it or not, every aspect of your job—calls, detentions, accident and crime scene investigations-will increasingly be subject to some form of video documentation. As some of this will come in the form of grainy security footage to be left to all manner of interpretation, or citizen cell phones that have been activated well after what actually started an incident, it behooves you to record your own perspective of the situation.

There is no shortage of products designed to record your every contact. From lapel cameras to dashboard cams, it's "COPS" live and on tour. Law enforcement utilizes cameras that can be permanently mounted in cars or hand carried by officers. We have cameras that switch on automatically when the car door opens or the siren activates. Video is digitally recorded, sent wirelessly to the station for monitoring, and cataloged and stored for later use in court.

The mere presence of a camera can change the dynamics of a situation, and you will find that some people will play to a camera-even yours. Others tend to get caught up in the immediacy of the moment, oblivious to the possibility of being recorded; some probably don't give a damn if they are. This means that you'll get all manner of spontaneous statements from suspects and witnesses that can expedite and close out investigations.

Camera usage encourages greater professionalism on your part, and locks people into a version of events that they would have a difficult time backing away from later. In the long run, you will come to realize that documenting your actions and investigations works to your advantage and can prevent frivolous litigation.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

For the police officer, power comes in myriad forms, including the powers of arrest and the powers by which to effect that arrest.

Having advanced from the truncheons and straight sticks of yesteryear, today's cops have a wide range of mechanical and electronic weaponry available to them. Among the tools you may carry on your Sam Browne include handguns, TASERs, batons, magazines, pepper spray, handcuffs, portable radio, knives, recording devices, cell phones, and flashlights.

But with more and more items accruing on your arsenaled waist, keeping track of them can also become a concern. A Bay Area Rapid Transit officer's disastrous confusion between his sidearm and his TASER is a prime example. The extent to which Johannes Mehserle's agitated state and distracting influences played a part in that incident may be long debated, but the bottom line is that he should have been keenly aware of the tools he carried.

And therein lies a valid concern for today's rookie cops. Members of this generation-particularly those from metropolitan areas-have largely been raised in environs that prohibited imaginary gunplay. As a result, many of today's younger cops are no more familiar with firearms than with any other tool of the profession. Oftentimes, their first exposure to these tools occurs in the academy.

To avoid potential disasters, it is imperative that you acquire proficiency and comfort with your weapons and tools. It is far better to anticipate and address knowledge gaps in controlled environments than hope for some sudden epiphany when the bad stuff hits the fan. Maintaining an awareness of just where your tools are, training in how to transition between them, and developing the fine motor skills with which to retrieve them are all key.

Tags: Officer Safety, Citizen Video, Patrol Car Video


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