When Hi-Tech Becomes No-Tech

It is not uncommon for an officer to return to the sergeant asking for a vehicle change because the computer in his assigned car was broken.

As cops have become more independent, the staff in dispatch in departments been pared back because they are no longer handling system inquiries for the cops on the road.

Sergeants are becoming accustomed to receiving incident reports directly from patrol cars as soon as the cop finishes them. The sergeant often reviews it from his own car, ultimately submitting, correcting or rejecting it, as appropriate.

We have the benefit of sending encrypted instant messages between officers without having to worry about someone hearing it on a scanner.

Dispatch sends vital information about calls for service via the CAD system directly to the responding units. Cops on a crew can quickly check the status and location of all the other team members.

Dirt bags playing the "name game" in an attempt to conceal their real identity find the game is short-lived when they see the cop pull their picture up on the mobile computer. Game over.


As, I mentioned earlier, many agencies have reduced staffing levels in dispatch because cops can now run their own vehicles and people from the street.

When I started in uniform, I created my own three ring binder. It had the city map cut up to fit the book and then laminated with the border of each district area clearly marked. The book had diagrams of the layout of all of the apartment complexes and mobile home parks in our city. It contained a page with all of the important phone numbers (like the tow service). While I've talked to plenty of other veteran officers (who worked "the job" before MDTs) and had similar books, you would be hard pressed to find a book like that in an agency that has computers. It is all on line now.

Agencies are moving reference manuals to the computer, as well. It is a great place for dynamic documents like the Motor Vehicle Code or the General Orders and Policies. Some years ago, Omaha PD stopped distributing departmental memoranda on paper. It is done by email. The system tracks when each officer opens the email and is then judged to have received it "officially."

In some areas, prosecutors have been known to question the viability of a charge without an accompanying video recording of the incident.

In most agencies that have adopted computer-based reporting, traffic tickets and the like, the paper forms are no longer in the cars. In some instances, the department no longer has a supply.


A major outage in the national cellular network would render most of the in-car police computers useless. They would be mobile paper weights.

"I'm sorry Ms. Brown. I cannot do anything about your husband beating you. My computer is down right now."

That is not going to fly.

In most cases, agencies and their officers are not prepared for reverting back to manual processes if an emergency situation forces the issue. I want to share a real-life scenario.

Most Southeast Michigan agencies use a large shared system called CLEMIS. In addition to the usual NCIC checks, they also use the system in the cars and in the station to write their incident reports. About a year ago, CLEMIS encountered a problem and was completely down for almost seven days.

In the specific agency I am citing here, there were no procedures in place for such an event. This isn't criticism, just citing an example of how our technology dependence can negatively affect our performance.

When the system initially went down, no one knew if it would be down for minutes, hours, or as was ultimately the case: a week. As the first shift wound down without the computers, the cops were told to hold their reports and write them on their next work day.

When it became clear that the computer problem would outlast their ability to wait, someone decided that they would go to the store room and retrieve the old paper forms to write their reports. Formal reports required 7 individual sheets of paper to complete. Unfortunately, they were missing 3 of the required 7 sheets. So, another day of delay while a fresh supply was printed.

  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to Officer.com. To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.