It’s a new day. CopBlue has hit the ground running. Before the first article was written, we knew who would be the focus of this unique on-line magazine: STREET COPS.
The goal of our efforts would be crystal clear: Save just ONE life.
From those two principles we will not waver. Period.
The list of contributors contains some of the finest cops in Law Enforcement today. I am complimented to be in their midst.
This article will be different from my usual. Its purpose is to share the big picture of who I am and what I bring to the table. It is important to make the goal clear and keep it in focus.
WHO AM I?
I am officially at middle age, according to my birth certificate. I maintain that I am mentally at the age of ten – much to the consternation of my wife.
I spent the first part of my life as a civilian who was a physical wreck (a heart attack looking for a place to happen). At the age of 40, I embarked on a total makeover by: quitting smoking, losing 100 lbs, and taking up bodybuilding.
I’ve done six bodybuilding contests and may try for a seventh this year.
My professional career was that of a process specialist, although it was called something else in those days. I worked with businesses to implement new computer systems. I showed people how to use automation productively. Quite by accident, I found myself performing my trade in a patrol car.
I spent a few years on ride alongs in many agencies, studying what cops do and how they do it. I quickly adapted. I learned how to direct traffic, being a gopher, and helping my partner handle mundane tasks. My skills grew. I became more enmeshed in police work and spent most of my time with a short list of officers.
THE WATERSHED MOMENT
One night, around 2200 hours, we were dispatched with another unit to a farm house far out in the country. After acknowledging the call, my partner turned to me and explained: we will be running dark and very quiet. We would try to arrest a male who had a DEA warrant out on him. His bond for release: $100,000. This will be a VERY serious (pronounced: DANGEROUS) call.
After meeting up with the other unit, my partner asked me to cover the north side of the residence. If the suspect tried to escape in my direction, my job was to grab and hold him. My only gear: a Mag light. It was then that I concluded that I needed training – for my own safety.
Within a few weeks, I had enrolled in the local police academy. I spent sixteen weeks there and by the time it was over, the hook had been set. I recognized that coppery was in my heart, never again to be absent. I began working part time as a reserve officer for a local agency.
In 2001, I moved to the Sheriff’s Office. Following 9/11/01, I spent about three years working full-time, detailed to the Detroit/Windsor (Canada) border.
The sheriff put us there to work in support of U.S. Customs. It was a whole different kind of law enforcement, indeed. My country was at war and I was doing my part on the front lines.
While working as an officer, I also continued to pursue my consulting and training activities. I worked with hundreds of cops from agencies all across the country. It was a learning experience rooted in reality.
I did my best to learn something on each shift. I came away with an amalgamation of skills and tools that are unparalleled in today’s educational process.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATUS?
I have consulted with agencies that want to deploy (or update their) mobile technology, i.e. computer hardware and software. It is used to run vehicle tags and people through NCIC. It may be used to write traffic citations, crash reports or incident reports.
Once the gear was installed, I would train the cops on how to use the new gear SAFELY.
The unfortunate reality is that nearly every product which I could recommend or that I trained had serious flaws. There were usually flaws in the product as it came from the vendor.
Added flaws were introduced by mistakes in the installation / implementation process. Those usually originated from the city’s IT folks who had never spent a minute working in a patrol car or interviewing a street cop about their job.
This combination of screw-ups proved frustrating and serious time-wasters, at the very least. At their worst, they were causing cops to die.
How and why could this happen? The reasons are simple, almost too obvious. The folks making the gear rarely (if ever) talked to or sought input from the cops who actually use it on the street.
Usually, someone with bars or stripes is calling the shots. Guys who haven’t had their backsides in a car in ten or twenty years were making decisions and giving directions on subjects where they had no first-hand experience.
The administrators had no clue about the details:
- How important are user-adjustable fonts?
- Are the color choices for text and background important? If so, how and why?
- Why should anyone care if the keyboard backlight is green, red, or if there even is a back-light?
- A removable keyboard seems totally unnecessary to a digit-head who has never written a long report on a fixed keyboard with his lower back twisted and screaming in pain.
The comparison is like asking one of today’s cops about the details of a call box or evaluating a speed-loader for their revolver. Duh!
RUNNING INTO THE MUD
So suppliers went off designing and creating products based on information gained from administrators who had no clue. The result was predictable. And it’s a mess.
I worked as a trainer for a software company that claimed to have their focus on officer safety. They claimed to offer products that were designed by cops, for cops.
It makes a good story.
It was good enough story in fact, that I brought my experience and reputation and joined forces with them. The reality, however, proved to be quite different.
Officer safety was a goal worth pursuing only if it did not threaten the profits of the parent corporation. When I pointed out the risks to cop safety with the new product, I was quickly told that I needed to realign my loyalties. I worked for a software company, I was told. I was no longer a cop and needed to remember that fact.
I considered those words of wisdom (?) as I headed for the door.
The unfortunate reality is that most technology producers give officer safety only enough attention to make a sale to a person who doesn’t really know what goes on in a patrol car.
I’VE SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE
When I first started riding around in a patrol car, mobile technology was a metal clipboard. If a cop was really lucky, there was a PC back at the station with Microsoft Word on it that had a blank incident form. They could fill in the blanks and print it out. That’s it.
Here’s the standard tech story that has been repeated too often:
- A tech guy who has some cop friends invents a program that makes the cop’s job safer and faster.
- A company is created and they begin to sell it around the country.
- The company management goes to great lengths to interview street cops. They go on ride alongs. They hold focus groups. All with the purpose of improving the program in ways that help the street cop.
- The company becomes very successful.
- A big corporation buys up the company. Within a few months, BIG CORP has little (or no) interest in what the street cops want. Their only concern is making big profits for the shareholders.
- The street cop and his needs go begging.
Unfortunately, that story has been repeated too many times. The most recent tragedy is said to have happened when iyeTek was bought-up by Lexis-Nexis.
It seems the big companies don’t care about the welfare or needs of the cops who use their software.
HOW URGENT IS IT?
I know of at least seven cops who has been killed on the job where the blame goes directly to the technology in the car.
- The software was not designed to be used on a small mobile computer screen.
- The installation and location of the computer hardware couldn’t have been placed in worse locations.
- The cop was never trained on risk awareness and avoidance when using a mobile computer.
- Cops have been seriously injured in a crash by computer gear that became a missile.
- Cops are all-to-often surprised by a citizen who approaches their patrol car undetected and knocks on the window to get the cop’s attention.
Of course, I don’t want to omit the cars where seeing through the gear on the dashboard is a visual obstacle course. There are radar units, cameras, video screens, and a host of other junk that block an officer’s view of what lies ahead.
Our safety and our lives are being threatened. This column will be one where I will name names. I will review entire systems, when appropriate.
In future articles, I’ll talk about what went wrong so that others can avoid repeating their mistakes. I plan to review specific products and the attributes that make them The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
Mobile tech projects usually start out with good intentions. But control is passed to people who ARE NOT street cops. The end result is a new computer system which provides the most benefits for the records clerks and too little for the gun-toting cops. And the cops are told, “Live with it.”
I want to expose this kind of stuff.
I want to help those folks who really want to improve the work life for the street cops in their agency.
I want to help them know when it’s time to show the door to a shiny-suited salesman who does well at telling jokes, but miserably at offering a truly worthwhile product.
WHERE’S THE BEEF?
It is so simple, it’s almost too obvious. Yet, I think that some administrators need it as a screen saver.
Every worthwhile technology project will do three things for the street cops:
- It will improve officer safety. (Re-read this one many, many times)
- It will improve officer efficiency.
- It will make clerical jobs easier for the street cops.
Any product you are considering should be able to demonstrate how it will perform all of the above. If it does not, or you are not certain, show ‘em the door.
GOOD NEWS AHEAD
I have recently learned about a new company, TBL Systems, who has busted their collective butts to create new mobile software for street cops.
It enables them to write incident reports, crash reports, citations and a whole bunch of others they handle every day.
TBL’s top priority: improve officer safety.
It appears they have done their homework. We’ll see. The proof is in the pudding.
Stay tuned. If this is true, TBL will be the FIRST technology company to return to the cop world which truly wants to make street cops more safe.
They could help us save lives.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In the academy, we were taught about the elevated risk level of sitting stationary on the street for any period of time. Move around. Take different routes. Never fill out your daily log in front of the address where you were called for service.
Keep moving. You are an easier target when you’re stopped. Remember that.
Today, technology threatens these most basic concepts of coppery.
Stay in your area. Write reports in your car. Don’t come to the station.
It sounds good on paper. That is, until you’re listening to Amazing Grace from the pipers at a funeral of a cop who obeyed that BS order.
If we are going to safely migrate work to the car, the gear we use must be fine-tuned for the mobile environment. Today, little of it is. Cops must be trained, reminded, and retrained on the tactical changes that are required to address safety issues.
Stay staunch. Stay aware. Stay safe.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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