How technology can enhance – not impede – police situational awareness
Critical to the successful deployment of any new product, technology or training in law enforcement is buy-in from patrol officers
It is no secret that cops are resistant to change. There have been tears shed over the move from revolvers to semi-autos, from metal to plastic sidearms and from leather to plastic holsters.
Critical to the successful deployment of any new product, technology or training in law enforcement is buy-in from patrol officers. If the cops on the beat won’t use a new piece of equipment, it’s not going to be a success in your agency.
While my home agency supports smartphone apps for emergency notification, controlling and viewing feeds from IP cameras, and sending secure messages, I know cops who still have a cellphone with 0-9, *, #, and red and green buttons – and not much more.
There are many products available that can keep cops safe by boosting situational awareness, but only if they are used. Most patrol cars have a screen in them that can be used for mapping and pulling records, but they could be used for so much more, like tracking other LE and first responders such as fire and hazmat when you are responding to an incident.
GPS and geo-fencing
Think about your last police pursuit. Could you go back and re-trace your steps to search for a thrown firearm if necessary? Many modern handheld and vehicle radios have built-in GPS that can record your movements for playback later, but only if officers and their unions allow the feature to be enabled.
Most CAD systems can download an address along with other information to the screen in the car. Now add geo-fencing capability that uses “virtual walls” to automatically pop information onto the screen as the officer travels through specific locations. This can include known drug hangouts, the location of a sex offender, or perhaps flag an area where police cars have taken fire in the past week.
Geo-fencing also could help with personnel safety and incident management by logging when personnel arrive and leave the command post and automatically switching their radios to the tactical channel, letting officers concentrate on the mission and not the overhead. With compatible systems, even mutual aid events could be more easily managed.
For example, there were 120 responders from multiple agencies at the YouTube shooting, but only 80 checked in at the command post. If a bomb went off or cars needed to be moved, how would anyone contact the 40 who didn’t check in? I’ve been on more than one rugged terrain search where a rescuer went home but didn’t check out, risking the life of the remaining staff who now had to search for two people.
Imagine the benefits if your agency knew when staff arrived on-site, knew that they were on the correct channel and knew exactly when they left. How much easier would mutual aid billing be if you had an automated electronic log rather than a bunch of paper to sort through and collate?
Almost like magic
Every one of these functions can contribute to officer safety, but only if they are embraced by the feet on the street. Mandates aren’t going to make your officers like technology any more than a command order to wear their vest when the mercury is pushing 90 degrees. Officers started wearing vests consistently only when they saw lives being saved.
Another example is the technology suite being rolled out by several communications vendors, including intelligent holsters that can turn on body-worn cameras for all officers in the same area when any one of them draws their weapon, and vests and radios that can signal when an officer is down, in distress or has been shot.
How many police unions fought the use of body-worn cameras when they came out? Humans are not recording devices and our memories are malleable and fallible. While an officer’s perception of an incident can be different from what is seen on a video, both can still be legitimate, for many reasons; angle, 2D versus 3D, shadows and so on. And yes, BWC videos have repeatedly been used to “set the record straight.”
In fact, the video can be used to help with accurate report writing – another bonus. The majority of law enforcement executives interviewed by the Police Executive Research Forum are in favor of allowing officers to review BWC footage prior to making a statement about an incident because they believe that this provides the best evidence of what actually took place.
Technology is evolving at a rapid pace and while some cops don’t like change, why would anyone not want to use a product that can give them a better chance at returning to their family after a shift, make report writing easier or ensure that their brothers and sisters can locate them when things go south?
Not only do command staff and the feet on the street need to keep up, but you also have to think about funding, procurement, roll-out and implementation plans well in advance of your committed go-live date. This is where you need top-to-bottom buy in from your agency, and the best way to get it is to think WIIFM, or “What’s in it for me.”
New technology can make your reports’ jobs easier, save them time, or give them a better chance at returning to their family after their shift. The technology you implement today could save lives tomorrow.