I'm not talking geography. Most cities and towns have their advantages and disadvantages. Paradise, Calif., has Tom Selleck. San Francisco has Nancy Pelosi.

No, I'm talking about how the job is better in the real rubber-meets-the-road way.

Yes, we all know that in many ways the job is much more difficult. Having to make sure that our suspect passes some racial litmus test (I always said of the first middle-aged, middle-class white heterosexual male I saw coming out of a bank with a bag of money in one hand and a gun in the other, his ass was mine).

But that's not to say that there aren't areas where law enforcement is demonstrably better than before.

Today's cops are better educated (thank God for online universities). They've at least been given tools to minimize the prospect of getting their asses in trouble (TASERs, verbal judo, the Alibi Network).

But that's not to say they won't get nailed: "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him think" comes into play here.

Still, there's no denying that they have at their disposal new and improved ways of networking, both socially and professionally, and getting dirt and keeping tabs on bad guys and gals.

Among the technological advents helping:

GPS Systems

Nowadays, cops can not only find their asses with both hands, but can track suspects easier. Hell, with GPS they might even have a harder time getting lost. No small feat considering the number of cops I've known who could get lost in a phone booth. Of course, the watch commander also has a better chance of knowing where you're batcaving on night shift. Or dayshift, for that matter.

Cell Phones

Using cell phones has made our job easier and safer on so many fronts it's ridiculous. You used to have to rely on someone to use some cryptic code to let you know the watch commander was out in the field. Now all you need is a friend inside the station to give you a heads up call on your cell. Also, whereas you once had to drive miles to contact a potential victim or get someone to corroborate a story, you can expedite your investigations via cellular advances, as well. How many of you have posed the following question: "Did you allow your 12-year-old to drive your car tonight?"

Cell phones have been boons in tracking down suspects. We had a caper wherein a suspect kidnapped a woman and was holding her at gunpoint. By triangulating her cell phone, we were able to track down the two of them, saving the victim and getting the suspect in custody after capping a couple of rounds and scaring the shit out of him. An impossibility 40 years ago.

Cell phones have all kinds of bells and whistles and their applications number in the thousands, including wanted suspect information, ring tones, and nudie pictures.

Check out this Web application for task force investigators.

Again, cell phones can also be a liability: Dirtbags have them, too, and call stiff in calls to get units pulled off perimeter containments, request friends pick them up, or have weapons or would-be assassins shuttled to them. (In fact, just about any technological advancement could be adouble-edged sword as suspects can exploit them, as well. Let's just thank God there's so few Moriartys out there). 

Laptops and Blackberrys streamline everything from report writing to photo line-ups to sharing of intel.

Then there's mobile digitals.

Once upon a time you had to use your radio to run subjects for wants and warrants. This was time consuming and God help you if a hot call was being coordinated on your frequency. Now, you can run as many subjects as you want. As if that wasn't enough, license plate recognition systems can alert you for warrants.

If there is a liability to some of this state-of-the-art stuff, it is perhaps that some cops see such technology as an end-all: If the guy doesn't have a warrant, they'll kick him, ignoring the prospect of the contraband in the trunk. Also, such systems are not always dependable, or immune from operator error.

Improved Information Sharing Systems

Thanks to programs such as COPLINK and Central Valley Information Sharing System, information from different law enforcement information systems - such as jail records, probation data, computer-aided dispatch, and other programs - can now be readily and quickly shared between agencies.

Ballistic Vests

It's inconceivable to me that some cops routinely used to go into the field without ballistic vests. It's incredible that some still do. Now you not only have vests capable of stopping a variety of ballistic and edged weapons, but even eyewear that'll stop bullets.

Liability: Wearing them appears to be geographically predicated - they can be uncomfortable muthas in hot and humid climates and many police agencies do not mandate their being worn. Kind of like the absence of anything resembling fiscal oversight in Congress these days.

Use-of-Force Options

TASERs. Pepper ball guns. OC spray. Arwen rounds. Neutron bombs. That's a helluva lot more force latitude than when one maybe had a sap, a gun, or a baton. Even the baton is collapsible now, rendering it more user friendly and portable and a handy suppository for those in need (offer not valid in New York where they take such jokes seriously).

Liabilities: Officers may become overly dependent on them.

Cameras, Cameras, Cameras

When thumping, Tasing, spraying someone, it's nice to have some objective documentation of what precipitated your actions, and what your actions actually were. To this end, we not only have a variety of in-car video systems, but also officer friendly video recorders that'll tape what's happening out of car camera range.

Check out this pocket video recorder.

Now, once we have a device that establishes one's personal priorities – safety of our peers and the community, or self promotion – we'll be all set (well, at least better off).


Dean Scoville
Dean Scoville

Associate Editor

Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

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Former associate editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.

View Bio