Last October I attended the IACP Conference in Boston. Since I was there as a journalist, and not a conference "attendee," I spent almost all my time in the huge exhibit hall, wandering amongst the gadgetry that has inundated criminal justice professionals in the 21st century.
If you've ever been to an IACP convention, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Hundreds and hundreds of booths and displays, containing a seemingly endless array of gear: Dozens of flashlights, scores of vehicle accessories, at least a hundred variations on several very popular firearm designs, cars, helicopters, transport vehicles, simulators, leather, and on and on. It would seem that the myriad of vendors that service law enforcement have addressed our every need and desire.
One of the things I learned long ago is that if someone invents something new for coppers, coppers will buy it--whether they need it or not. I went through that phase, and so did you (I'll bet). We all know the symptoms; my particular infection took the form of handguns and holsters. After running through a lot of money, I now own two—for what the average officer would call a "primary duty handgun" and an "off duty/back-up handgun." Most of the holsters have disappeared along the way, also. Anyway, I digress. Where did I leave off? Oh yeah ...
There are many tools that officers need, and while manufacturers have done a pretty good job of providing hardware to make the job easier and safer, there is still a lot of room for improvement. What sort of improvement? What do we need? I thought you'd never ask--here's my list:
- Raincoats that really keep you dry
- 360-degree vehicle mounted video cameras, with infrared capability
- Portable radios without dead spots
- Spotlights that stay adjusted
- Bluetooth that stays connected
- Winter hats that protect your ears without making you look like a duck
- Lumbar support that works
- Truly clean-burning gunpowder
- Pens that write in the rain, and on coated paper
- Permanent—Press, that is
- A travel mug that won't drip or spill
- Flares that don't "spit"
- Truly inter-operable communications gear
- Cell phone and computer LCDs that you can read on a sunny day, with shades on
- OC that cleans up fast and wears off quickly
- Affordable, light weight vehicle armor for that door you like to take "cover" behind.
While we're at it, how about a list of training we wish we had? Like:
- Field training that doesn't bury FTOs in paperwork
- More options for training in verbal management skills
- Less expensive, easy to administer options for EVOC training
- More report writing training that isn't boring
- Less focus on incredibly expensive training gear, more focus on affordable options for smaller agencies
- Less focus on quantity/frequency of training--more focus on quality and timeliness
No list would be complete without a real fantasy solution. Science fiction fans will remember some of these:
- A universal translator/communicator--to help us deal with our ever-evolving society and its language diversity
- Phasers set to "stun" (okay, its an old joke, but we're not far from this one right now)
- Transparent aluminum (for those car doors)
- Light-sabers (talk about baton training!).
All kidding aside, officers have some very real needs. Law enforcement is beset with many varied problems. You can hardly pick up a newspaper or watch a news broadcast without seeing something that points to a desperate need for better answers to some pretty tough questions, like:
- How can we prevent motor vehicle related injuries, yet still respond quickly and effectively to emergency calls for service? How can we reduce pursuit related injuries and deaths, without stopping pursuits altogether, thereby giving fleeing suspects an "Avoid Jail Free" card?
- How can we reduce "bad shootings" caused by officers' perception of furtive movement, or "mistake of fact" shootings related to tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving situations, without causing officers to hesitate, thereby putting themselves at greater risk?
- When the inevitable lawsuit occurs, how can we better prepare officers for "courtroom survival?"
- What is the answer to the "shot between the vest panels" and "shot through the arm hole" tragedies that seem to happen way too frequently?
- How can we address the two-pronged problem that seems to permeate so much of law enforcement: Old cops forgetting young cops' problems, and young cops ignoring old cops' wisdom?
Not all the answers to these, and other, questions are technology based. A lot of soul searching and re-thinking is in order. In this new century and new year, its become pretty clear that we need to make some changes, while continuing to do the truly outstanding and dedicated job you all have done for so long.
Some parts of this article have been light-hearted and good-natured fun, while other parts of it are deadly serious. That is, of course, how police work is. The real trick is to deal with both perspectives while keeping the primary goal in mind: Reduce the risks to officers while keeping the public and each other as safe as possible.
By the way, my lists aren't meant to cover everything--these are just the first few things that came to mind. I bet you've got a list of your own. E-mail stuff to me (just click on my name at the end of this column), and we'll add to our lists.
Maybe somebody will listen.
Stay safe, and wear your vest! (and Buckle Up!)