Looking ahead to 2014: GPS and the paper map

Technology is always changing, but some things stay the same

It’s New Year’s Day — Happy New Year to all LEOs across the country! — so it’s a natural time to reflect on years past. Today, I remember that some years ago, my squad car had lots of room and available space in it. There was a radio, siren box, shotgun rack, flashlight holder, and prisoner cage. That was about it.

Then, with increasing technology, we added an in-car video system (which had what seemed to be 50 cables that had to be run underneath the headliner to the trunk of the car, where it connected with a massive metal box with a VCR locked away inside). Then we added a laptop, which was very large. Then we added a FLIR unit.

Along with all of this technology came a decrease in work space. Our cars became as cramped as the lunar modules of the Apollo space missions back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

A New Feature: Smaller!
Even though the strides in technology have advanced our profession, time and time again I would hear of how crowded the squad car was becoming from beat officers. But great news as we enter 2014: we have hope in the future! Not only is our technology evolving into even more useful tools, but they are getting smaller and smaller every day.

Soon our laptops will be a small tablet on the console. Radar units are a mere fraction of the size they once were, and much more accurate.

In-car video systems are almost all wireless now, and many in the future will operate on Bluetooth technology. Our cellular phones are handheld — no longer mounted on the transmission casing.

Most of the report forms we had to lug around in a giant metal clipboard can now be stored on your tablet and/or smartphone. Body cameras are smaller than the pager you once wore on your belt, and your handheld radio that once was the size of a payphone is now so light you have to reach down and check to see if it is still on your belt.

As technology evolves, we will have the best of both worlds. We will have the necessary tools at our disposal, but also newfound space that was a thing of the past.

In 10 years the new rookies will look at a picture of an “old” squad car from 2013 and think we lived in prehistoric times.

Some Things Don’t Change
And if you’re like me, from the pre-prehistoric era, it is our job to teach and train these technologically advanced rookies the “art” of being a street cop. That means we need to teach them how to be a cop with nothing more than a paper map, ballpoint pen and a radio. 

As much as this new equipment aids us, we need to know the basic skills of police work, which is in danger of becoming a dying art.

If you are an FTO, you’ve seen the recruit freak out when his computer goes down, or his DVR won’t record. They may get that “deer in the headlights” look if their cell phone doesn’t have service or the laser on their weapon malfunctions. They may need to actually call in a license plate someday instead of typing it into the system, or, in the future, just say it out loud while the computer listens to their voice.

The art of watching and looking and being observant to what is going on around them and in their beat must be passed on from the old guys.

If we pass on the basic skills of policing to these young ones, then maybe, just maybe, when they are the “old veterans” they too will be able to pass on how they were able to catch that burglar or drug smuggler by a good old-fashioned foot chase — instead of relying on their GPS through their Google Glasses. 

After all, our common sense is the most important tool we have at our disposal.

As always, stay safe out there and have a safe and prosperous New Year in 2014.

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