The reality of life for cops today is that they live and breathe with this stuff. Issuing an order that denies its use when the car is in motion is like telling the cop to turn off his radio and communicate with dispatch using area payphones.
So, what do we do?
We train cops to measure their use of this gear. We teach them to use it in a manner that is tactically sound. We do everything possible to allow cops to glean the vital information without putting themselves or civilians at risk.
It can be done. I have done it. I have taught cops how to look at a return from the DMV and know if the driver's license is valid based on the SHAPE of the text on the screen. I have taught them how to discern the critical facts based on the COLOR of the screen where it is displayed. They have also been taught to use their ears to detect problem children.
Cops can be taught how to position an index finger on a computer screen and using short, 1/2 second glances see the few words that give them the real low-down on an evolving situation.
We shouldn't tell them NOT TO; rather, we teach them HOW TO.
After all, they are going to do it anyway.
But, there's more.
FOR THE PSYCHOLOGY BUFFS AMONG US
A few months ago, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting another LEO, Dr. Patrick Halperin of the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office. He has his doctorate in areas of human behavior and a very long work history as a cop. In addition to an impressive formal education, he graduated from the Chicago Police Department's school of hard knocks. I consider myself fortunate to count him among my friends.
He brings together the best of two worlds: theory and practical experience.
"Doc" has significantly contributed to my thoughts on this issue and I want to share them with you.
Current economic conditions are causing cops to work more side jobs than in the past. It is therefore reasonable to believe that they are working tired more now.
The body - physically and mentally - has much in common with a machine. A set of inputs and demands will predictably generate a certain set of outcomes. The point: when energy stores dwindle and the cop gets tired, his overall capacity goes down, as well. Think of it like a battery that is running of out of juice.
Multi-tasking requires the brain to consume energy. Synapses in the brain are involved in making connections with existing knowledge, while external stimulus is being monitored from all five senses. In sum, all of this information is used to guide behavior.
When our energy supply is low, the body will automatically redirect energy to maintenance of core organs, something like what happens when hypothermia sets in. The body tries to preserve the vital organ functions. Hence, victims of hypothermia are reported to fall asleep before ultimately succumbing.
Cops being cops: when we realize that we are tired and maybe starting to doze, we look for something to get into. We want the adrenaline rush of a chase, an arrest or something to revive our withering senses.
That sounds good until you consider what happens when the rush stops: it is an energy crash worse than ever.
Making matters worse: when the energy dwindles, the sharpness of the mind goes with it. There is clinical evidence that a tired person is not receiving or perceiving all of the information from his environment. Terribly tired people do not even know what they are missing.
Realization is less clear when you are tired. You are using your energy stores just to stay awake.
That is a pretty scary thought when put in the context of a deadly force incident, isn't it?
SO WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?
Boy, this sounds like an old song, but... GET ENOUGH REST before going on duty.
I know: that is often easier said than done.
When you are tired, REALIZE that your capacity for handling information is down. You will not react as quickly. You will not even see or hear as much of your environment as when you are fully alert.
STOP TRYING TO MULTI-TASK WHEN YOU ARE POOPED.
When you are fully rested, you might be quite capable of handling a vehicle pursuit, the radio, the computer, the cell phone and the Nextel all at the same time. At the end of a double shift, you are not.