Have you ever tried to continue a conversation with a person whose attention has been drawn away to answer a text message? How about trying to get the attention of an adult or child whose attention is intently focused on the screen of their laptop computer? Have you ever attempted to extend a greeting to an acquaintance as they passed on the street, when they were talking on a cell phone?
These attention-sapping devices are now in every squad car in America. Some are furnished by the agency and others are personally owned. For great lengths of time officers are turning away from the world spinning around them on their beats and dangerously concentrating on a parallel world flickering on a screen sometimes as small as three inches by three inches.
Anyone travelling about the country can’t help but notice how many officers seated in squad cars have an eyes-down posture. As you see an officer on the side of the road or in a lot, stick your hand out the window and give out a friendly wave as you pass. Chances are it will not only go unreturned, but it will go unnoticed.
Guess what: criminals have noticed. They haven’t posted a memo on any blog page or printed the information up on their monthly periodicals. They have chosen to forgo any notification and instead take advantage by engaging in tragically successful ambushes with startling regularity. As of this writing, 40 percent of officers who were killed in the line of duty through gunfire so far in 2011 have died in ambushes.
1.) Shut down all personal devices and place them in your locker, upon beginning your tour. To some they are no longer an occasional distraction they have become a constant distraction.
2.) Learn to log arrival on scene without looking at your keyboard.
3.) When you have to use the computer on the beat — don’t type more than one line before you lift your eyes to scan and process.
4.) If you must text, prop the device on top of your steering wheel (never while driving!) and develop the ability to utilize your peripheral vision to keep the rest of the world in focus.
5.) If you must write up reports in your squad, save your work and change locations periodically. Do not stay in one place too long.
6.) Train to survive while using technology.
7.) Technological Survival Training
As you read this, stop to do this exercise. Lower your head slowly until your chin touches your chest. Think as it does, “Heads up!” Now lift your head and scan and process everything around you. Do the exercise when you are texting on your cell phone and on the computer.
Now, consider taking a toy laptop or toy cell phone to the range for this two-officer drill. While seated in front of a mechanical threat target that is turned away, the officer on the range lowers his or her head, chin to chest holding the toy technology. The partner officer then turns the threat target and shouts, “heads up!”
The officer lifts their head, observes the threat, immediately drops the technology they are holding without concern for breakage and draws to meet the threat. Do this for repetition.
A Couple Words from a Longtime FTO
The technology available to law enforcement allows the beat officer to have access instantaneously to vast amounts of information on the car you are following, the suspect you are about to contact and the address you responding to. Technology even allows you to see the heat of a suspect through walls and in darkness. It allows you to send a robot in to search a building rather than endanger an officer. Technology continues to aid law enforcement in many ways.
When your attention must be diverted by these amazing tools, operate the technology in short bursts like firing an automatic weapon. Pause regularly to take the time to refocus, observe, and analyze the environment you are in to assess changes and identify dangers.
In short, here are a couple of words from a long time field training officer to every cop still in the mix: Heads up!