Tempering our overreliance on technology

While technology can be a huge help to law enforcement, we must remember that the real 'software' resides between our ears — the real 'firmware' resides between our solar plexus and our spine

I typically write about ways in which technology has positively changed — and continually changes —the way law enforcement conducts its ongoing fight against crime.  Police officers now employ in-car computers to gather up-to-the-minute information on crimes and suspected criminals. Technology has allowed officers to issue citations by scanning a driver’s license and registration, cutting the time of a traffic stop sometimes in half. Officers can take crime scene photographs and review them in an instant. Some agencies even have tools to map out a crime scene digitally and recreate a crime (Total Station).

Some agencies issue officers video recorders smaller than a pack of cigarettes to record contact with the public, traffic stops, or other critical incidents. Officers even have the ability see in the dark with forward looking infrared or night vision technology.

Another example of how much technology has progressed is Smartphones. A person using a smart phone holds more computing power in the palm of their hand than the total computing power used to land a man on the moon. Some agencies are now issuing Smartphones and tablet computers which have applications installed in them to help with any given incident.

Downsides to Technology
Technology continually moves forward, bringing some marvelous benefits, but I am not ignorant of the negative aspects of technology affecting police officers in the field today.  Overdependence can hamper the progress of a critical incident investigation and citizens with a cell phone love to video record officers while working to post on whatever website they choose. Often the video posted casts the recorded officer in a negative light. Perhaps most importantly, technology is getting us to the scene of a crime faster than ever before, increasing the likelihood of an armed confrontation between the arriving officers and the violent criminal. 

On in November 2009, I wrote about how — with the help of new technology and “good ole’ police work” — the person who murdered Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton was identified. I wrote how that combination helped in gathering some information to identify the vehicle the suspect drove on the night Officer Brenton was killed. The information was disseminated to the public and an alert citizen called in a tip. The suspect was identified, confronted, and after a brief gun battle, arrested.

On February 23, 2012 Washington State Trooper Anthony “Tony” V. Radulescu was gunned down in cold blood on a Washington State highway.  Troopers, Officers, and Deputies from Kitsap County’s different jurisdictions pooled their resources together to try and identify the suspect. The officers searching for the suspect did not have the luxury to wait for technology to catch up and help.

By conducting nothing but “good ole’ police work” and street sense those same Kitsap County officers were able to find the vehicle used in this cruel act and later able to identify the driver/suspect of the vehicle.

Through continued “good ole’ on -scene police work” the suspect’s location was identified.  He was then surrounded.  When the tactics unit were ready to contact him, they heard a gun shot.  The suspect was found to have shot himself and later died. Further police work helped identify and arrest six people connected with trying to help the suspect leave the immediate area.

The Real Software
The point I am making is that we officers enjoy technology our predecessors would envy — from the abovementioned technologies to technology currently in development that will later “blow our minds” out of the water. Regardless of how great all this technology is, officers must still apply the “good ole’ police work” part of the equation, coupling that with technology to put the pieces together. As exemplified by the Kitsap County officers, technology sometimes must take a back seat to common sense. The real “software” resides between our ears — the real “firmware” resides between our solar plexus and our spine.  The real hardware is our rock-solid resolve.

I’m sure you have found yourself at a loss when your CAD system is suddenly down because a gnome chewed through a cable.

For this reason I keep a blank electronic copy of our agency’s report form and other forms I could print up at a moments notice from any computer and use in case our system takes the proverbial dump. 

Current technology is a great asset to our occupation, but let’s keep in mind to not rely on it so much that we feel we are at a stand still if it fails.  All officers should have paper copies of report forms and other forms usually completed electronically.  And paper versions of what police officers everywhere are known for everywhere around the world, the ticket book.

Finally, let’s honor those who have fallen before us by appropriately using technology and continue to use “good ole’ police work” and common to solve crimes and bring the responsible parties to justice.

Stay safe!

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