Photo credit: Officer.com
Hand-held radios, laptops, smart phones and numerous other devices have forever changed how law enforcement officers do their jobs.
Officer.com Editor Frank Borelli covered a variety of communications topics with a veteran law enforcement officer on Thursday who told him that while the technological age is here to stay, officers need to stay alert and now be quick to turn to their true police skills.
"What a lot of guys need to remember for officer safety is: Don't use those technological devices when you're one-on-one," Officer Max Schulte said. "If you've got back-up there, by all means, use it, but if you're standing there one-on-one, don't be on your smart phone or on your laptop trying to run somebody, because your head buried in that thing. You're just setting yourself up for a bad situation there, just use your radio."
He said that laptops serve a great purpose, but that at one point he found himself becoming too dependent on them and started forgetting that he had a radio that he could use.
"We didn't get laptops until after I had gone to Investigations, so I wasn't out on patrol when I got it, but even when I was in Investigations I found it very useful."
One day, Schulte was en route to a house to do an interview when he discovered that there were no numbers on a row of houses and he couldn't make out which one he was supposed to go to so he decided to run a tag number from a vehicle parked in a driveway.
"I turn to my computer and think, 'My computer is not on yet; and it's going to take 10 minutes for that to happen.' Then I realized 'Wait a minute, I can call the station on the radio.' "
Despite the dependency that can develop when using a laptop on the job, he said that they are still a great asset.
"I really do like them," he said. "They provide the individual cop out on the street with a lot more information readily available at his or her fingertips rather than trying to get the dispatcher to run everything you need."
Technology has allowed officers to better communicate with each other and dispatchers and also has given them the ability to mine the system for driver's licenses, vehicle information, criminal history, booking photos and various other data.
"Nowadays, when somebody gives me a name, I can confirm with a booking photo, even on my smart phone whether or not they're giving me the right name," he said. "I don't know why people still insist on giving you a bad name, but they do and it's easy to figure it out within a few minutes."
He said that it's also useful how a dispatcher can send messages on the laptop that aren't priority calls.
"What always happened when you got that 'suspicious person' call, they give out a description and then you've got 10 other guys asking 'What's included in the description again?' Now they can just send everybody a message on the laptop with the description of the person or the vehicle you're looking for."
Borelli recalled a time when an officer would have no way of verifying a false name if the suspect didn't have ID on them.
He said that the trick he would use -- taught to him by a sergeant -- was to clean the back window of his cruiser and have the suspect in question put both of his hands on the window and then he would lift the prints. He would take down all of the information given to him, fill out print cards and send them in.
"That was a lot of work versus what you can do today. You can practically scan a thumbprint on the street and get an ID," Borelli said, referring to devices that departments across the country have begun to purchase within the past few years.
"That is still very expensive technology, and a lot of places don't have that yet," Schulte said. "It's great technology if you can get your hands on it, but a lot of people are still having to do (it the old way). We usually just use a fingerprint card and fax that off to the FBI. Usually within a couple of hours we get a response back. As long as they were arrested and the FBI had their prints on file, you can get something back."
Borelli pointed out that while all of the new technology is helpful, it doesn't take the place of solid police skills and the equipment needed to do the job.
"I've never seen a laptop handcuff a bad guy, have you?"
Schulte responded: "No, but it's helped me put handcuffs on a bad guy."