P1 Technology Helpdesk
with John Rivera
Downsides of the cell phone
Our cell phones are such invaluable tools that we pretty much take them for granted, never really thinking about the fact that they can be traced, mapped, tapped, and subpoenaed
During my academy class we were told the most powerful weapon a cop carries is a notepad and pen. This is because whatever is written in the notepad usually ends up on a report. That report could result in life changing consequences for the person it is written about.
I use my notebook to write names and incident notes but once my notebook is completely full, I shred the notes. A prosecutor once asked what I do with old notes and notebooks, she was surprised to hear that I shred them once I write the report or the notebook is full. When she asked why, I told her because whatever is in my notebook ends up on the report, so why keep them?
Technology has affected in every aspect of our current lifestyle and changed the way Police officers work in many ways. We know can read multiple license plates at one time to check for stolen cars. We can take multiple photos of a crime scene and store them on a CD and then print from the CD whenever we need to or however many pictures we may need.
Everything has a Downside
Technology has helped the way we are dispatched for calls and running personal or vehicle data from our vehicle MDTs or MCTs without clogging up precious radio air.
Technology has also police negatively as well. How many of you have heard of officers looking at inappropriate web sites while surfing the internet on their vehicle computers?
Another form of technology that has drastically changed police work is the cell phone.
One of my sergeants told me of a time he had to find a call box to talk with dispatch or contact another officer. Imagine doing that here in the Great Northwest where it rains about nine months out of the year and you know the call box would be in the open with no cover whatsoever.
Cell phones have been in existence for about 30 years but really have taken off in the past ten years or so. In some of my past articles I have mentioned how cell phones can be traced, mapped, and even tapped with the proper equipment. Another fact is that since 2005 it has been a federal requirement that all cell phones be GPS enabled.
The point I am trying to make is that we police officers often carry two or even three cell phones at one time: a personal one, a department issued one to make work related calls - even a special squad cell phone.
Cellular phone technology has made an enormous leap in advances. They enable us to send text messages, take photos, send photos, check email, and browse the internet from just about anywhere. The capabilities are ever growing.
Along with these capabilities there are also possible negative consequences. Police officers know that just about everything they write on a report, send in an office email, or say in a phone call is discoverable in court. Your notebook is discoverable in court. Even the mileage on your patrol car can be discoverable. So what prevents a defense attorney up from requesting your personal cell phone?
I recently spoke on this subject with PoliceOne Senior Editor Doug Wyllie, who told me of an incident he’d heard about where a detective was called out to a scene and texted his son to tell him he was going to be home late. To make a long story short, not only was the detective’s cell phone requested in a subpoena before the trial, but his son’s was as well.
Preposterous, yes, but really it doesn’t sound all that farfetched, does it? A defense attorney attempting to get his client free by attempting to discredit a police detective via his cell phone?
Additionally, how many feel like something is missing if you forget or misplace your cell phone? And how much information are we keeping on those cell phones? Now imagine yourself in that detective's position when he was told he had give up his cell phone all because he texted his family member that he would be home late from a crime scene.
As I mentioned before, we are finding ourselves rapidly becoming increasingly dependent on our cell phones. Additionally, there are also a vast amount of police-friendly apps that are offered for Smartphones. These apps range from language translators to fingerprint scanners to mug shot databases. If loaded onto to your personal cell phone and used on the field, they could possibly be subpoenaed into court.
I would like to mention that today’s technology is beneficial in police work if properly used. Please use discretion when using your personal cell phone at a crime scene.
Every time I have a doubt if I should write a report another sergeant's words echo in my head: If you think you should, then you’d better.
In other words, if you have to call home from crime scene or other critical incident, you should use the department cell phone. If you can’t use the department-issued phone, then you should ask to be relieved for moment, step away from the scene, make the call, and return. No one will fault you for being cautious.
Food for thought.