Every issue of POLICE Magazine this year bears a special 40th anniversary burst on the cover. That's because this magazine was launched by a San Diego police officer named Rodney Dornsife back when Jimmy Carter was the Democratic nominee for president and this grizzled 57-year-old scribe was a junior in high school.
Now what we would normally do to celebrate this occasion would be a retrospective about what it was like to be a cop in the days when wheel guns were in duty holsters and in-car radios were state-of-the-art police tools. And we'll do a little bit of that in the last two articles of this special feature section. But we decided it might be more interesting to look forward instead of look back.
Predicting the future is dangerous business. And it's an especially bittersweet business for those of us who went to elementary school back in the 1960s, which for all of its flaws and disasters was a time of immense optimism and crazy theories about what life would be like in the 21st century. Back then we were presented with visions of flying cars, paper clothes, colonies on the moon and Mars, tunnels across the oceans, and jetpacks for everybody.
But some 50 years later we don't have any of that stuff. What we do have, however, is just as amazing. We may not have left Earth orbit with manned flights since Apollo 17 back in 1972, but we've sent a probe past Pluto. We don't have flying cars (thank God because the average person can't drive safely, much less fly), but we are soon to have self-driving cars. And well, to be honest, paper clothes and tunnels across the oceans were insane ideas anyway.
The one thing many of the people who looked forward into the future from the 1960s and 1970s did get right, however, was computers. Back in their time computers took up whole floors of buildings with their tape memory systems and punch card user interfaces. Now, the average American walks around with more computing power in a cellular phone than NASA had available for the moon shots.
Like I said, predicting the future is dangerous because you are pretty much guaranteed to be wrong.
And that is true in any field. If you had asked law enforcement officers back in 1976 what police technology would look like in 2016, they might have talked about flying patrol cars and robot partners and handheld laser weapons. They couldn't see the wonders that would really be part of your day-to-day operations: things like license plate readers, body cameras, practical less-lethal weapons like TASERs, e-citation tools, and all the marvels of this age.
So knowing we are going to be proven wrong by the time our 80th anniversary rolls around, POLICE Magazine presents this look at the future of policing and police technology in America.