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Home  >  Topics  >  SWAT

January 20, 2004
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Chris Adams Use of Technology in Law Enforcement and SWAT
with Chris Adams

Technologies that could save your life, and why they scare your department to death

I've worked in and around law enforcement since 1993 when I became a reserve. I started my Company a little less than a year later in 1994. I have learned two things. If you really want to get rich in the law enforcement business, make something that will be installed in all the radio cars or made mandatory for all line personnel. If you don't want to starve to death while you wait a lifetime for this to happen, then make something for SWAT.

Why is this? The first part should be pretty clear. If you make a new product on which you make $100/unit profit and you get it into all the radio cars in just the NYPD, LAPD, and LASD, then you will have enough money to buy a time share in every time zone.

The second part will make sense in a moment, and I hope I don't have to kill too many sacred cows in the process. Simply put, SWAT is acknowledged as a risky profession - more so than law enforcement in general. Therefore, SWAT operators are allowed to try new technologies at a much faster rate because 1) any new technology that saves officers is good and 2) since SWAT is a risky business, there's less added liability for the department to try these new technologies there.

Now, one would think that this model would carry forward into line personnel. Don't hold your breath. You see, there are a couple of major hurdles in issuing new equipment to line personnel. Most young officers may make the mistake of thinking that ballistic vests were always mandatory. In fact, the adoption of something as basic and life saving as ballistic vests took years and internal struggle. In many departments, they were only first accepted as an individual officer purchase. Then they were issued and required to be kept "available." It wasn't until the late 1980's that they became mandatory at some of the largest and most prestigious departments in the country.

You might ask "why the holdup?" Two reasons: First is cost; the second is liability. The cost issue is pretty straightforward. If you are in command of a large department and you are going to issue something like bulletproof vests, you have to give it to all the sworn personnel. Doing it in phases or only issuing a new piece of equipment to the more dangerous regions opens the department up to a host of wrongful death suits should an officer not issued the new technology die from something that the new technology (in this case, bulletproof vests) could have prevented. The liability concern may not be as clear.

In the late 1980's, lawsuits against law enforcement agencies for civil rights violations were growing at an exponential rate. Bulletproof vests had the ability to protect officers from potential harm or death. They also had the ability to embolden law enforcement officers in their pursuit of suspects. There was concern at some departments that this would result in an even greater number of lawsuits resulting from officers searching cars, pursuing suspects (also known as harassing), and causing any other number of public relations/legal problems for the department in question. In some cases, this held up the standardization of vests as mandatory equipment.

Luckily today vests are mandatory. Then again, other than vests and MDTs, most patrol cars really aren't any more advanced than they were in 1980 in terms of officer safety. Many departments have installed camera systems and should be lauded for doing so; but all this gives you is a video epitaph and better than average odds that whoever kills you will eventually be brought to justice. I'm not just going to lay this on command either. I've been in meetings where new technologies were discussed that would share information on the actions of suspects and officers with other officers.

Generally the reaction is one of ambivalence. For some reason officers are not as inclined as people in other businesses to want to pursue new technology. Sometimes I've seen downright hostility to new ideas. "You're going to share video of my actions? I'm calling the union!" The fact is we've been lucky. Suspects, for the most part, are not any more sophisticated than they were when the guys retiring today were rookies. This is changing. New, more vicious drug cartels are out there, terrorists are out there, gangs are more organized, and the chances of your run-of-the-mill line officer coming up against one of these more-sophisticated adversaries increases by the day.

When you ask the majority of officers what they are missing, the response is training and upgrades to existing technology. There's more money available today for law enforcement than there has ever been. Make sure that you, as the individual officer, as a ranking officer, or even as a private citizen persuade your agency to pursue these monies and the new technologies that they will make available. Yes, a great deal of this new technology will go to SWAT, HRT, Counter-Terror, Narcotics, and any number of other special enforcement divisions, but some of it will make its way into a radio car, and that new technology could some day save the life of a friend of yours, or even your own.

One other thing to consider is how, once we have all this new technology, will it be interlaced with basic POST training rather than being used as a bandaid for pre-existing problems as it is too often used today?


About the author

Chris Adams is Managing Director of LAMSA Weapon Systems and a contributor to PoliceOne.





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