Literally blindfolded? Not really. Imagine hitting the streets without gear which you consider essential: radio, cell phone, computer, GPS, video gear and other inventions of modern times.
We humans adapt to a new technology and then promptly forget how we lived without it. Example: mobile computing; in-car laptop, tablets and handheld devices (like iPhone). For cops, this kind of technology has only been in widespread use about a dozen years.
Some of the younger ones among us have never worked a day without a computer or cell phone at their fingertips. They area as essential to them as their sidearm.
QUICK GLIMPSE IN THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR
There are tasks widely practiced in times gone by that were essential to life, itself.
- Chopping trees down, preparing the logs and building a home.
- Using a horse to plow a field.
- Regular hunting in order to feed your family.
- Raising a barn.
- Delivering a baby (your child) at home.
- Using a camera which required film.
In the ‘old’ days, people got their news from the newspaper or from one of three televisions stations.
In many small towns, the sheriff was the one, and only, lawman. Even in large cities, lack of immediate communication between officers caused those cops to essentially be a collection of one-man agencies.
Back then, survival and success as a cop demanded that officers build networks of people in their communities. There were citizens who could be counted upon to help the cop when necessary. They were the cop’s source of information about suspects. A good cop developed a ‘sixth-sense’ about every person they encountered. They were unable to “run” someone through NCIC or even check for warrants with the cop’s own dispatchers.
LOW-TECH SKILLS LEARNED
Nearly twenty years ago, I was blessed to be partnered with two cops whose cop skills came from God. Their names: Ron Carver and Joe Higham. When I worked with them, I was as green as green could be.
At the time, my job was to perform process analysis, studying what the cops did and how they did it. Back then, I was a strapping, tall bodybuilder whom they quickly pressed into service. I was a second man in the car. I provided cover for them and when needed, some added muscle. That’s where I learned how to be a cop. And, they were the best.
Ron and Joe had skills that I didn’t know anyone possessed. They could simply look at a car/driver and in short order, announce: “He’s either got drugs on him or there’s a warrant out for his arrest.” It was like there was a sign hanging from the subject’s bumper. I couldn’t fathom how these guys could spot wayward drivers and do it with incredible accuracy.
The good news: they taught me how to do it.
Ron and Joe could make a car stop or arrive at a scene – some of which were exploding before we arrived – and incredible communication skills, they could calm things down almost instantly. Failing that, they would have the blockheads in cuffs with little muss or fuss.
Joe and Ron taught me how to ‘read’ people. I learned how to engage someone in conversation and bring the tension down to a reasonable level. Strong interpersonal skills made a big difference. There were a whole bunch of times that they taught me how to “talk someone down” so that the call ended up with handshakes as a “no report” instead of having to haul someone off to jail and complete all the paperwork that goes with it.
Finally, Ron lived by the adage that we should make every effort to finish each call with the citizen smiling and saying, “Thank you.” Accomplishing that could be a tall order, yet it happened most of the time.
I learned how to adapt, invent, accommodate, accomplish, and achieve when everything was going sideways. I learned that while the brass made the rules and issued all of the orders, it is us grunts at the bottom of the food chain who make the wheels turn in a cop’s world.
LESSONS AT THE BORDER
The picture below is a primary inspection point at a U.S. Border. I was part of the reserve unit for the Wayne County Sheriff in Detroit. Following the attacks of 9/11/01, U.S. Customs at the Detroit Port of Entry was horribly understaffed.
As a result, the Sheriff sent a group of us to the border. We were sworn in as Customs officers. Our time there spanned three years. The average day saw 5,000 cars enter the U.S. across that bridge and that did not include truck traffic.
Each vehicle was stopped, inspected, queried and checked prior to being admitted to the U.S. We had about sixty seconds with each car to decide if it was O.K to pass or needed further inspection. Every decision was important.
The U.S. was at war. Foreigners were trying to kill Americans and end our way of life. One bad decision by any officer at the border had the potential to result in catastrophe.
While we had some computer support, 95% of our job had to be done with our ears, eyes and gut instinct.
THERE IS NOTHING SO CONSTANT AS CHANGE
The cop world has changed.
There are cops today who sit on the side of a road and run the tag of every car which passes. If the return from the state/NCIC comes back with a hit, then – and only then – do they initiate a traffic stop.
In most cases, prior to making contact, the cop has every gory detail about the registered owner’s experience with law enforcement. If the vehicle has been reported stolen, likely dispatch and every other unit in the area knows of the hit and location of the stop, as well.
I talked with a buddy yesterday who is a Ferndale, MI cop. His name is Patrick. He’s a top-notch operator with many years under his belt. In discussing this article he said, “We don’t have any paper in our cars, anymore.” No ticket book. No crash reports or incident report forms. No F.I. cards. Nothing.
I asked Pat if he remembered the widespread power outage that struck the entire northeastern part of the United States back in August, 2003. He did. He and I were both called into work (in our respective agencies) when that happened.
For my department: We had very limited power in the building. No computers. No connection to LEIN/NCIC. Landline phones were largely inoperative. Cell service was down. Of course, our car computers were useless, too. The department radios were working but they too, were jammed due to the lack of phones and computers.
I asked Pat, “So, if we had a power outage like that today, what could you do?” His response was that he would pretty much be stopped in his tracks. No traffic stops. No crash reports. No arrests. No incident reports. The only thing he could do would be to stand guard somewhere or maybe direct traffic.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
We train for active shooter scenarios. The vast majority of agencies and cops will never experience one.
Here’s a quote that will get your attention. “Jon Wellinghoff, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said the power grid is currently “too susceptible to a cascading outage” that could leave millions in the dark for days, weeks or longer.
Have you trained for that possibility? I didn’t think so. I haven’t, either.
It is obvious that nothing is going to be done on an institutional basis to address this possibility. Preparation and planning are probably on our backs, individually.
I remember – vividly – what it was like to function without power for twenty hours. HORRIBLE!
What if it were twenty DAYS?
My first thought: how to I care for and protect my family? What will I be able to do as a cop in my community? HOW will I avoid paralysis?
How are your people skills? How about your gut-level instincts? How long has it been since you tried operating just using your wits, instincts and God-given talents? Like other seldom-practiced skills, these will get rusty without use. It’s the old, “use-it-or-lose-it” scenario.
I think about the Ron Carvers and Joe Highams who are out there. They will survive because they know how to function absent support from technology. They know how to interact with the good and the bad in their communities. They know how to adapt and overcome.
The technology we’ve come to depend upon is not our enemy.
Our enemy is our own laziness when we allow ourselves to become so dependent upon this gear that we cannot function without it.
Think about your life, today. Consider your work life and your personal life. Then run through a few scenarios in your mind.
If you had no power, communications gear or computers for the next week (starting right now), what would you do? What if it were two weeks, or a month? Worse, what if you simply didn’t know?
Traveling to where there IS power may not be an option. When we lost power in 2003, I was in Detroit. I quickly learned that there was no power in all of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. No one knew if maybe the entire country was down. If so, what then?
It may be that if a collapse of our system really happened, a cop from a hundred years ago might fare better than a cop of today. We cannot serve and protect others if we cannot take care of our own basic needs.
Chew on that.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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