“Our computers are down right now.”

We street cops have learned how to do things with a computer that we previously never even imagined.   Of course, we check people and vehicles.

We are writing our reports in our cars on the computer and sending them instantly to the sergeant for approval.  A really proficient traffic cop can write and deliver an electronic citation to an errant driver in less than one minute.

We have even gotten half-good at using electronic diagramming to draw out crash scenes.   Wow!

When a forgetful dirt bag in the back seat inadvertently gives us his brother’s name and DOB, we quickly show him the error of his ways as the DMV picture of his relative displays on our computer screen.   Game over.


We have been through shooting simulators, like FATS.  We have done scenario-based shoot / don’t shoot training.

For those of us who are fortunate enough, we get EVOC refreshers.  In the post 9/11 days, we have been taught to look for new threats and prepare for new challenges.

When I am on the street, I make sure that I always have a supply of food and water with me.  It has become the new normal.

Yet, I fear we are overlooking what could be the worst threat of all.


 You may have been unfortunate enough to encounter a fast-food restaurant that won’t give you any food because their computers are down.  Maybe not.  But it happens.

Imagine 10 years into the future:   “This is your lucky day.  I’m letting you go with a verbal warning instead of giving you a ticket because my car computer is down.”   Or, how about this: “I’m sorry.  I can’t take your vandalism report today.  Our computers are down.”   Lastly, “Dispatch:  I’ll be 10-19 for a vehicle change.   The computer in this unit is down.”

The last one is reality right now.  I have witnessed it first-hand.

We are at risk of having a generation of cops who lose their ability to be the police without a computer.  That is a situation that we simply cannot afford.

Make no mistake about it:  I am a strong advocate of using technology to make me more safe and more effective.  But that doesn’t give me the right to abandon the skills I had before computers.   Today’s cop training and environment not only allows that kind of amnesia to set in, we are encouraging it.


A friend of mine, who is an FTO in his agency, shares this story.  When he has a rook, one day each week, the computer remains off for the entire shift.   It is back to paper for the newbie – just to ensure that he knows how.

At first, I thought he was nuts.  Now, I can see the wisdom of his ways.

In one agency, the computer system went down for a week.  At first, the cops were told to hold their reports until their next work day.  When the computers were still down, rank decided to pull out the paper report forms.  Of the 7 sheet set, it was discovered that they were missing 3 of the pages.   An emergency call to the printer was made.

On the third day, with all of the forms in hand, they realized that two recruit classes had come on since computers arrived.  The new guys had never seen or been trained on the paper forms (which looked nothing like the computer version).  Oh SHIT!

Training on the manual systems should be part of the FTO process.  Periodically, I believe that the shift supervisor (with forewarning) should order computers turned off for a shift, reverting back to paper for the duration.

Patrol cars should be equipped with an emergency stash of the forms they will need when the computer breaks.

A LITTLE KNOWN FACT:   a major outage of the cellular telephone network in this country would turn most mobile computers into electronic paperweights.

Are you prepared to Be the Police without a computer?  You should and you must be.   The ball is in your court.

In the final analysis, it’s all about saving just ONE life.

From the CopBlue Vault.   Originally published:  February, 2010.