The Technology Craps Shoot

As the choices and options abound, making good buying decisions is getting tougher. I have better luck keeping my wife smiling.

The odds seem to be stacked against us. Technology is exploding into law enforcement from every direction; so many cops have a story of painful failure to tell. It is about someone else, of course. Does the stuff not work at all? Nope; that would be an exaggeration. It works, but not the way you EXPECTED that it would work. There is the old business axiom born in the Disney organization: there is no disappointment so stinging as the disappointment that comes from an un-met expectation.

This technology stuff seems so overwhelming. As the choices and options abound, making good buying decisions is getting tougher. I have better luck keeping my wife smiling. I'm thinking that making a good choice with technology has about the same odds as winning the lottery. Successes are rare. A guy needs the Luck of the Irish.

So, what brings me to this topic here and why now, you ask?

The Feds Are At It Again

This could be a long story, but I will avoid that. The enginerds at NHTSA have decided the current crash report is way too short. It is missing vital information that will make the roads more safe: longitude & latitude of the crash, how the tow operator is chosen, the color of the cop's underwear and other critical data. In coppery, we have a technical term to describe this push for more paperwork: Bullsh*t.

States are not required to be 100% compliant all at once (how gracious of them), but progress must be made in order to keep federal highway funding. In my home state of Florida, a brand new crash report will debut (and be mandatory) on January 1, 2011. It has 32 new fields and 530 new data elements. Yippee.

Our current short form has just two pages. Next year, the shortest crash report in Florida will be seven pages. I know that you are thrilled. Me, too.

The state is not fighting the federal mandate because the state folks believe the changes will drive more agencies to electronic crash reporting. The state's goal has long been to get rid of paper crash reports. So, these changes are seen as an ally in meeting that goal of eliminating paper.

The New Reality

For a number of years, we have been seeing ads and reading articles on electronic crash reporting and electronic ticketing. (DISCLAIMER: I have worked for some of these companies as a trainer.) I have trained patrol cops how to use the stuff and do it safely. I have witnessed cops who are pleased and cops who are pissed. I much prefer to work with the former.

The increase in the amount of the time required to write a crash report is just the trigger that many agencies have needed to make the move to the computer. Most vendors bundle crash reports and tickets together. The million-dollar question: how do I know which one to buy?

For most cops, the mere thought of getting this assignment from above brings an immediate grimace of anguish. It is a no-win situation. It's like hitting a moving target while using a malfunctioning weapon with poorly aligned sights. I am here to say: there is a way to win. Listen up.

Think and Talk About the Subject From the Ground Up

The fancy theory: figure out what your agency needs from a functional aspect - rather than from a technical viewpoint. Think and talk only in the functional terms.

The practical guide: make a list of what operational changes/goals you want. For electronic crash reporting, here is a sample of such a list:

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