The information in this article might prevent a funeral in your agency.

Note: Due to the amount of information being presented, I am busting this article into two pieces.  This is the first.  The second will publish one week after the first.

I’m writing this article expecting that cops from two categories will be reading it.  The first is the command officer with the juice to make (or influence) the buying decision on computer gear.  The second category is the rank and file cops – or maybe their union leadership – who have a personal stake in ensuring officer safety within their agency.

However, if you fall into the group of being a “digit-head” or a “bean-counter,” you may relate to what I’m saying.  Or, maybe not so much.  That’s OK.  You’re welcome to read it, anyway.

The goals of this article are two:   First, I will do my best to make a convincing case that each and every detail about the computer mount is important to the cops who will live (and maybe die) with it.  Nothing can be left to chance.

Second, I believe that introducing a computer into a patrol car is not something which can simply be “added on” or “slapped in” in the way one might add a second (rear-facing) radar antenna in the back window of the vehicle.  No, it’s not that simple.

Adding a computer to a patrol car is like adding a basement to an existing house.   Adding a computer is a fundamental change that affects every system and sub-system in the vehicle.  If you think otherwise, you’re kidding yourself or maybe you’re just out of touch with today’s reality.

WHY IS THE MOUNT SO DAMNED IMPORTANT, ANYWAY?

For you regular patrol officers, forgive me.  I’ve got to do some explaining to those who haven’t worked a shift on the street in a few years.  (You know who you are)

Assertion:   the computer is the most-heavily used tool for a patrol cop of any thing in his tool set.  Translation: the cop’s computer is used more than the radio, his flashlight, his pocket notebook/pen, and it’s on a par with the vehicle itself.  My research has found that the officer interacts with the computer on average 4 times more than he does with the radio.

The computer is no longer a luxury.  It’s not an extra.  It’s not an option.   It’s one of the basic pieces of gear needed by today’s street cops.  There are many agencies where, if the computer is down, the car is sidelined until it is is repaired.  The car is considered unfit for service.  I understand.

Second, the computer is not small.  Its presence is obvious and keenly felt in the car.  The mount directly affects a variety of important elements:

  • The ease of seeing the screen in all kinds of lighting conditions.
  • The security of the computer and printer during emergency vehicle operations.
  • Resultant low back comfort/discomfort from being “twisted-up” while entering a report.
  • The ability to see and access other systems in the car, i.e. switches for emergency gear.

WHERE DID I LEARN SO MUCH ABOUT MOUNTS?

I cannot be an expert on every type of computer mount that’s on the market.  I’d be lying to say otherwise.   So, I went to my brothers for backup.  In my training experience, I’ve worked with scores (upwards of 1,000) cops from jurisdictions of all sizes and resources.

I participate in a few on-line cop forums that have a national reach.   I posted notices that I would be writing this article.  I asked for feedback.  I got hundreds of responses from cops all over the nation.  These are the questions I asked.

  • What attributes are important on the street?
  • What affects your safety?
  • Looking at the mount in your car, what do you love/hate?
  • If you were buying new mounts, what’s the most important question that you’d want answered?

I then sent a questionnaire to many of the top manufacturers of mounts asking the same questions.  Some of the manufacturers that were polled:  DATA911, Gamber-Johnson, Lund, Mobile Desk, RAM Mounts, and Tripod/Trimble.  Most responded and were helpful.

Finally, I brought my years of experience as a cop, a consultant, and a trainer of cops.  I’ll share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS

Most command officers have mastered the skill of appearing to be interested and attentive when listening to a grunt cop’s complaints about one thing or another.  In reality, their minds are usually elsewhere and none of the cop’s words are truly registering.

That is a skill that my wife claims I mastered in the early years of our marriage <ahem>.

Command officers after all, have important things to worry about.  No time for chasing my tiny problems.  Right?

If your lieutenant had a squeak chair that creaked with his every move, how long do you think he would live with it?

If one of the legs on his desk was out of kilter so that the desk rocked slightly every time he leaned on it, how long would he wait to find something to shore it up?

If the fluorescent lights in his office were old and had begun to flicker, creating their own light show, would someone be fixing that – like yesterday?

If the background music/radio was tuned just a little off station so that one alternately heard crackling music and static?   Might someone be told to get that problem handled, right now?

You know the answer to all of those questions.

So, now be a cop on the street.   The mount for your computer was thrown in by the computer salesman at the last minute because no one realized during the bidding process that the mount wasn’t somehow “part of the deal.”   He’ll get you ‘something.’

The mount is on a fixed pole which is either too high or too low, but never, ever at the right height.  And the cop can rarely change it.

The mount has been in place for a couple of thousand miles and now all of the screws, nuts, bolts and washers have worked their way loose so that the mount rattles constantly whenever the car is in motion.   The computer and keyboard is no longer held snugly in place and it’s likely to end up on the floor or in the cop’s lap when he’s running code somewhere.

The keyboard tray looked great at the beginning.  It could swing left for the driver or right so that a second officer could use it from the passenger seat.  However, now all the cop needs to do is make a hard right turn and the keyboard and tray swing wildly until they stop firmly against the back of his hand or forearm.

The computer screen is mounted so low that it’s impossible to look at the screen to get the details of the stolen ride that just came back from NCIC while still keeping his eyes on the road and the subject vehicle.

The emergency equipment switch controls aren’t located in the same place across the fleet and/or they are not even the same brand.   But, the moron at the garage mounted the laptop computer directly over the switches so that the only way the cop can actually see them is to lean waaaaay back and peer underneath the computer.

Computer blinds cops to their own emergency controls.

If you’re a captain or lieutenant, how long would you live with gear like that in your office?   We all know the answer.

The last decade has witnessed a horrific increase in line of duty deaths.    The number of vehicle related deaths is terrible – and increasing.   It seems that too often I read about a cop who is killed in a one-car wreck where he lost control while responding to another officer’s call for assistance.

Maybe the cop wouldn’t have lost control: if the computer keyboard hadn’t just cut his right hand as it swung and hit him.  Maybe if he hadn’t been bent over looking under a computer to find the light/siren switch, he would have seen the curve in the road coming.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Just maybe one of those cops would be sitting at home with his wife and kids today instead of having his name added to the Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.

FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE

Putting a computer in a patrol car is a fundamental, structural change.  Sort of like adding a basement to an existing house.

The computer gear cannot be allowed to stop the cop’s escape from his vehicle on the passenger side.

The computer will directly effect a bunch of stuff.

Some agencies have eliminated or drastically downsized the center console.  Radio controls are available from Motorola that puts them on the edge of the computer and it includes controls for the lights and siren.

Where will the long gun go?   A Nebraska agency where I conducted training classes faced some real challenges.  Prior to the computers, the long gun mounted vertically on the passenger side of the car to the right of the transmission tunnel.

That’s where the new computers were installed.

Long guns went overhead until one of the cops needed a bunch of stitches in his head from being brutally cut by the gun/mount in a wreck.  The safety committee of their union did a formal white paper study on the computer and related gear.  Email me if you’d like a copy.

The computer cannot block physical or visual access to the other critical systems in the car.

The mount-type getting the best rating by street cops works with mobile computers, i.e. Motorola, DATA911. etc. (rather than laptops).   The mount places the computer directly over the controls of the car stereo.   A latch on the left side allows the screen to swing out and provide unfettered access to the stereo.  Otherwise, the screen is firmly held in place and out of the way of airbags.

Computer that doesn’t endanger

The keyboard tray usually sits below the heat/AC controls on a tray.  The tray stays in a locked position, and it’s easy to run plates/tags from there.   For report writing and the like, the keyboard will easily move to the cop’s lap.

If you’re going to mount the screen on the dashboard however, you must make certain that the software you choose allows each cop to adjust the font type and size to his/her liking.  I would need big letters.  Leave the little print for the kids, thank you.   You don’t want to force the old guys (like me) to lean way forward just to read it.

One of the biggest problems, complaints, issues sounds trivial, but it’s not:  sharp edges and sharp corners on the mounts.  Cops are getting cut-up by this stuff.  Their uniform pants are getting ripped.  They’re pissed, and they should be.   You wouldn’t stand for a sharp object on your desk gouging you many times a day, would you?

Back to the notion of fundamental change:  All of the stuff must fit together.   Car interiors are getting smaller.  We cannot mindlessly encroach on the space intended for the officers.  There’s a story from North Carolina about an officer who was in a crash and suffered a broken femur.  The break was caused by the computer and/or mount hitting his leg on impact.  That’s simply nonsense!

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

I don’t care what the knuckle-head in purchasing says, it just ain’t so.  The mount and the computer should fit the need.  Briefly, a traffic car that writes 20-40 tickets a shift with an occasional DUI, can work well with a laptop computer.  It has a fixed keyboard and that’s OK because he’s not writing reports on it.

He will need a high-speed thermal printer that is also firmly affixed to a mount in a place that easy to reach and just as easy to access when it’s time to load more paper.

A section car that’s likely to respond to requests for service will probably write a lot more reports.   In most agencies, reports aren’t given out at the scene, so a printer becomes less critical.   That officer will do best with a mobile computer (not to be confused with a laptop) and a removable keyboard.  If the cop is forced to type reports in the car on a fixed keyboard, low back injury will result from being twisted up for long periods of time.

The mount must be designed for the specific computer and the way it will be used.

I rode with a deputy recently.  He had a Panasonic computer.  The mount was a fixed pole with a flat tray on the top.  There were metal “L” hooks on the side, but he didn’t use them because he regularly took the computer out of the car and into the jail when booking a prisoner.  The metal hooks would have prevented removal, so he doesn’t use them.

So, instead of the metal brackets, he uses two short pieces of elastic cord (think bungee) with a hook on each end.  He stretches the elastic over the keyboard in two spots (between rows of keys) and hooks the elastic on each side.   On sharp turns or fast acceleration, the computer is prone to slipping off the tray.

Computer ‘secured’ with a BUNGEE cord.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there was no dock for electrical connection.  So, with each removal or return to the car, he had to connect about 5 different cables to the back and the side of the computer.

This is the kind of technical, practical, and safety disaster that cops all across the country are living with today.  Unfortunately, some are dying with it, too.   It’s got to stop and it needs to stop now.

Cops are being forced to give precious attention to the computer gear which steals their focus away from watching the subject, the vehicle, or the road ahead.   The outcome is predictable and now, it’s a matter of history.

The simple reality is this: the mount is the single most important component in a mobile computer installation.

I welcome your comments and questions.  I can be reached by email at jim@CopBlueBlog.com.

In the end, it comes down to saving just ONE life.

This has come from the CopBlue VAULT.

This concludes Part #1 of a two-part series  Look for the conclusion next week.

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