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The strides we've made: Reflections of a police dinosaur

I was thinking about the strides that have been made in law enforcement technology since I first pinned on the badge. For instance, my on duty weapon was a Colt Officer’s Model .38 cal with a six-inch barrel. My choice of holster was the New Jersey State Police holster, which was on a swivel with two rows of loops for my bullets. There were no speed loaders, speed strips, or drop pouches. Holster safety was still somewhere off in the future — to release the firearm you had to put your index finger into the trigger well to press on a metal clip.

I had two impact weapons. The first was a long piece of wood with a rawhide tie. The rawhide tie was looped around your thumb and with practice you spin the stick without hitting your shins. My nightstick was carried on my belt in a ring holder. You could never properly sit down when carrying it. I also carried a little item called a slap. A sap is a flat, beavertail-shaped slapper that is weighted with lead on the widest end that was extremely potent in getting someone’s attention.

This item was carried in a special pocket just below your rear pants pocket.

My department also issued an item called the iron claw. This was a devise that looked like a large “C” that you could clamp down on a subject’s arm. It used a ratchet mechanism to lock the claw on a person’s arm to control the subject. A quick twist closed it, and control was obtained via pain compliance. I think I used it twice and that was two times more than anyone else on the shift.

My flashlight contained five “D-sized” batteries. It basically was a metal pipe that served as a flashlight. It seemed to be as large as a walking stick. It would not fit in my back pocket so when the flashlight was out of the car, it was either in my left hand, under my left arm or held on the belt with yet another ring. I lived by the officer safety code that nothing except your firearm was ever in your gun hand. This light was never truly bright and it was before the concept of rechargeable batteries. And these batteries never lasted long. Simply it was heavy, bulky and large.

Also around the time I began, there was the introduction of a new communication device known as the portable radio. Law enforcement agencies where just getting the latest ‘walkie talkies.’ Ours were large brick like blocks that had only two channels. I was surprised that my pants never fell down under all the weight I had to carry.

Enough about personal equipment, let’s review the police vehicle. The first item I notice when I first was permitted to ride in the “unit” or police vehicle was a small transistor radio. The police vehicles were purchased without radios and it was before tape players, CD’s and satellite radios. The transistor radio, which only played AM music was placed in the left corner on the dash and held in place by being pressed against the windshield.

There were no spot lights attached outside of the vehicle. Inside there was a handheld spot light that plugged into the cigarette lighter. This light worked great if you could open the windows, but on nights it was raining, all it did was reflect the light back into your eyes.

The dinosaur of a police radio in the vehicle had to warm up before you could transmit. So if you turned the vehicle off, the radio took about a minute or so to warm up. Keep in mind the old saying about how long a minute is depending on which side of the bathroom door you are on. Your emergency had to wait until the radio was ready to go.

The overhead emergency lights when I started were, well, just a light. Nothing special, just a big light located in the middle of the roof that turned real slow. A few years later, we went high tech. The lighting system was now a bar attached to the roof and it had two smaller lights that flashed and still that large rotating light in the center. Alley lights were still way in the future.

The siren was basic. In fact it had one whining sound. The siren was activated by pushing on a button on the floor. Using your left foot, you simply press the button and the siren sounded. Of course this button was next to the high beam button. In an emergency some officers would activate their high beam instead of their sirens.

So far we have covered the basic personal and vehicle “high tech” issued equipment. The art of report writing was still in the dark ages. There were two choices. The first being to hand write all your reports and the second was having the ability to use an old non electrical typewriter. Both had the same drawbacks, the need for carbon paper. A mistake meant finding “white out” and correcting each page separately and then writing over. If you were using a typewriter, you had to reline the paper so the lines were straight. Somehow the reports never looked neat. No wonder there is a history of not wanting to do paperwork.

Times have changed, and lucky for us great strides have been made it the construction, type, and technology of issued equipment.

We are now lightweight, rechargeable, and high speed. Our flashlight turn night into day, we have then mounted on our handguns, shotguns, and patrol rifles. Not only are there multi-channel portable radios, we also have cellular telephones. Our vehicles are space age with everything we need to track, locate, appended, and transport criminals. With computers, every report is perfect, error free, and saved. Well, that’s the idea anyway.

It is a great time to be entering the exciting profession of law enforcement.

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