Things Break, Weapons Fail, Stay Safe!

Anything that can go wrong, eventually will. Officers should plan for their weapons and tools to fail, and be ready when they do.

I had a great topic all figured out for this month's column. In fact, I was all fired up about something, and couldn't wait to put pen to paper (that's senior citizen talk for "write it down"). Then something happened to me last week that made me put that idea on the shelf until next time: I had to spend a week without my computer.

For those of you that know me, I know you can't believe that I would survive that long without my daily bits and bytes, and my infusion of Internet folderol, but it's true. Actually, it wasn't an entire week, just three days...but it felt like a week. Here's what happened.

I had a minor problem with my laptop, which serves as my main computer--the screen was growing dim. Having a good warranty on my machine, I contacted tech support, and they promised to send out a technician with the appropriate parts. Sure enough, two days later a guy showed up at my house, and labored for a couple of hours to replace the LCD panel and video card on my machine.

That should have been my first clue as to the trouble that would ensue, since we're talking about a job that shouldn't take more than a half an hour, tops. It really just involves taking out a bunch of screws, sticking in the new parts, and putting the screws back.

Anyway, after he left, things seemed okay, so I used the computer for most of the weekend, then took it with me on a business trip to Georgia on Monday. Along the way, being stuck in an airport, I fired it up to check e-mail, and it went berserk, with the screen first freezing up, then flashing off and on. Of course I shut it off immediately, and from then on until I got home three days later (and a different technician showed up to fix what the first guy had messed up) I was sans technology.

Now here's what this story is all about--how much we rely on technology, and how problematic it can be when we're suddenly denied technology that we're used to taking for granted. During those three days, I suddenly was unable to access my files, and things that I had promised to send to other law enforcement people didn't get sent. E-mail didn't get checked and answered, and who knows what else didn't get done. Lots of problems--no solution but to wait three days. I had become over-reliant on my computer, and took it for granted. When it suddenly let me down, much of my professional life had to be put on hold--I couldn't get things done.

Cops go "Tech," too

When I first got into police work, we didn't have a lot of equipment. Uniforms and leather, of course (yes, "leather" actually used to be made of leather). Firearms, usually in the form of a .38 or .357 revolver, and a 12 gauge shotgun. Cuffs, extra ammo, and a flashlight. That was about it.

No OC, no TASERs, and often no baton. Maybe a "nightstick" that was usually left in the car (collapsibles hadn't been invented yet, at least not for police work). Many of us carried off-the-shelf civilian flashlights, since the high grade aluminum lights that we're all so used to today were just coming on the market. Body armor was rare, in fact it was pretty much non-existent unless you were wearing the big, heavy duty stuff like the bomb squad guys wore.

Vehicles were sometimes just purchased off the dealer's lot, especially if you worked in a small town--no police packages for some of us. One town I worked in had a Ford dealership and a Chevrolet dealership, so one year we would get a Ford, and the next year we would get a Chevy, alternatively replacing each car every two years with the same make, to keep the local merchants happy.

Vehicles were usually equipped with one or two rotating lights, a siren, and a radio, but there were no consoles for all the equipment to mount into. Gear was just bolted to the underside of the dashboard, and there was usually a single toggle switch drilled into the dashboard for the lights.

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