Technology could be the death of us all

I really liked Dave Smith’s recent article on the killer of the four officers in Lakewood, Washington. Like Dave, I get very angry about certain things and hope that that anger comes across in my writing. What I have found over time is that I actually write better when I feel depressed or angry over a particular issue.

I hope that this article in no way is construed to be an affront to those officers that gave their lives in this tragic event. However, what they were doing when they died has bugged me for some time. This insanity with technology (especially computers) within law enforcement has bred a new issue for police survival. Our squad cars today are not really patrol cars they are mini-offices and rolling admin centers. We have computers, GPS systems, printers, radios, you name it ...if it can produce information we have it. That’s not to mention the enforcement equipment we carry in addition to all of the information equipment.

I believe technology has created its own set of security and safety issues for the street officer. Just consider the placement of this equipment in the vehicles. Many times it impedes the vision of the officer either by its placement or by the lights and or reflections coming off the monitor screens. There are constant streams of information coming cross the screen all the time which distracts the officer’s attention from driving and scanning their environment. We spend more time watching and typing on the computer than we do driving the patrol car. It’s my belief that there has been an increase in crashes which can be attributed to these issues.

Add to this that we are listening to the radio, (or supposed to be), talking on our cell phones, texting as we drive, in addition to watching the computer screen as we roll along. Hasn’t anyone seen the latest research that humans are not really very good at multi-tasking even though we’ve fooled ourselves into believing we are?

What about when we pull someone over and we are back at our cars entering data into that distraction device we call a computer? Where are your eyes? Where is your head? Where are your survival instincts? Why they are all glued to that screen. You are most probably unaware of your surroundings and to me that is the same as being in “condition white.” In other words, you’re now a victim.

We can be so distracted so easily in and out of our cars by the smallest things, it is human nature but that insidious machine called the computer pins us down and makes us impotent while we stare at it. How many times has someone gotten close to you (or you to them) while you were on the computer? We have to begin to address these issues and understand that they are legitimate officer safety issues.

I watch officers all the time coming in to have their computers worked on. It seems that they spend more time trying to get them to work than patrolling the streets. There are probably agencies that want their officers to carry their computers into calls with them so they don’t have to take notes and can enter all the data one time. Many agencies are trying to maximize the exposure of their officers on the streets so they have them doing all their paperwork in the car on in some restaurant. This technology has also produced officers that can no longer write a complete sentence, understand punctuation, develop grammar skills or develop complete thoughts because of the texting that they do.
What really scares me is their inability to develop clear, concise thoughts and to be able to articulate those.

What can we do to at least provide some sort of security during these situations? One idea that worked for me on my shift was that we always tried to have a designated observer on these stops or when a group would get together to use their computers. Almost like the designated driver at parties. One person’s job is to scan and keep their eyes open as their colleagues work on their computers. We also need to have stricter enforcement of not using the computer when you’re driving and allowing dispatch to run checks. Your agency may have prohibitions to some of these but at least designating someone to watch your back seems like a good idea.

I believe that all this technology does get us information much sooner and may at times even be beneficial, but no computer, cell phone, BlackBerry, or other such device has been designed that will protect an officer by its presence.

That, my fellow warriors, can only be done by another warrior.

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