In June 2010, police in Belleville, Illinois arrived at James Elmore’s home just four minutes after his family called 911 to report he was having a heart attack. Elmore’s family expected that the responding officer would use an automatic external defibrillator (AED) to restore his heartbeat, but the officer had no AED. An ambulance didn’t arrive for another ten minutes, and when Elmore got to the hospital, he was dead.
The Belleville PD got its first AED in 2001, and eventually had nine of them in the inventory. The problem was one of repair and maintenance. The batteries in the devices have to be kept charged, and there’s no way to do that when the AED is in a patrol car. The contact pads need replacing after each use, and when they’re kept in the car trunks, things are dropped on them and they break. On the day James Elmore needed an AED, all of the devices were at the station, none in working condition.
This isn’t intended as a cheap shot at Belleville PD, because the problem of keeping technology projects working is very common. We use this cautionary tale only to illustrate the larger problem that typically, the excitement peaks when the gear for a new project is delivered and installed. Everyone gets trained to use the new stuff, and there are a few notable moments the first few times it pays off and performs as expected. Once the shine is off the new toys, they’re not as much fun to play with, and they’re taken for granted. Something breaks, and there’s no specific person detailed to look after it, so it stays broken. New people come on board and no one trains them in the use of the gear.
Ultimately, some rookie points at the dust-covered box in a corner of the station and asks, “What does that do?”
No one even remembers.
With better planning at the outset of a new project, this doesn’t have to happen. With a little care and attention, technology gear can remain useful for its entire life cycle and beyond. Here are some keys to preventing that unplanned obsolescence for your law enforcement technology gear.
Most technology products incorporate “consumables” that are depleted with each use, or require periodic maintenance. AEDs need new batteries and contact/electrode pads; portable breath testers require disposable mouthpieces and regular calibration. You wouldn’t buy new cars and not budget money for fuel. Funds to cover these expenses need to be budgeted for the projected life of the equipment, and possibly beyond. You may expect to buy new LIDAR/RADAR gear in five years, but if the money isn’t there, the items you have might have to remain in service.
Once that initial “honeymoon” phase is over, the person who oversaw the acquisition of the new equipment typically moves on to another project, and no one is appointed to follow up. Any project requiring periodic maintenance needs a project manager and an assistant manager. The manager looks after the equipment, performs preventive maintenance, restocks consumables, orders new supplies, and trains new hires in the use of the equipment. The assistant learns how to do these things, so when the manager moves on, there is someone to pick up the work (and choose a new assistant).
Ensure that the project manager has both the responsibility and the authority to do their job. If an untrained officer wants to take the new video camera out on patrol, the project manager should be able to tell him, “Not until you are properly trained in its use” and have it stick.
How and where will the new gear be stored? Equipment tossed into a patrol car trunk is probably going to get beaten up, wet, and dirty. If it’s forgotten, batteries will run dry. You may need to acquire or build some partitions in your vehicle trunks to ensure equipment doesn’t move around. There may even be a need for a charging circuit to be wired into the car’s electrical system. If this is something that will be checked out at the start of each watch, have a procedure to make sure everything necessary is present and working before it goes out.
Nothing lasts forever. When new equipment comes online, have an expectation of how long it will remain in service before it is retired. At some point, it’s better economics to replace gear instead of repairing it. Technology advances may make the old stuff obsolete. The year before equipment is due for replacement, start the budgeting and acquisition process so you won’t be left without.