The World is Changing: Police Officers Must Embrace Technology Whether They Like It Or Not

There is no denying the fact that the world we know is rapidly changing. It’s difficult for even the most technologically adept individuals to keep up with all the advancements in technology. While some of us may not want to accept these changes, they often cannot be avoided and become requirements of our jobs. There was recently an interesting article published in Law Enforcement Today called Loss of Faith written by Robert Weisskopf.

In this article, Weisskopf writes about how technology has changed the nature of policing and not just in terms of policies and procedures, but in the way police officers on the street are treated by their superiors. He argues that there has been an endemic loss of faith in the abilities of police officers to do their jobs properly, largely because of the growth of lawsuits against officers and agencies. Because of this, departments have transitioned to what he refers to as electronic personnel monitoring capabilities that are able to track and record officers’ activities.

Adding more technology for LEOs was originally designed to improve officer safety, he writes, but it has evolved into a way for superiors to track and micromanage:

Then we started getting new fancy electronic gadgets in our cars and on our persons. First we started with computers in the car. What a great tool this was. It allowed officers to run name checks and check for hot cars. As a sergeant, it allowed you to see what all your officers were doing and where they were located at any given time. While originally designed for officer safety, this led to sergeants constantly checking on the officers in their charge. Pressure from above, due to the mass of lawsuits, led to the sergeants riding on all the calls they could and micromanaging the jobs. Officers began to resent being constantly checked on by their sergeants.  Sergeants began to feel that the officers were not capable of handling the assignments without them present. 

This, he writes, has led to a loss of faith in an officer’s abilities and technology is often used to discipline officers. He also argues it’s an invasion of an officer’s privacy:

About eight years ago I spoke with a commander in our department who was excited about a new video camera system that would be a part of the microphone of your radio and would be recording everything you did each day. From the time you turned on your radio until you turned it off at the end of your tour everything would be recorded. All I could think of was this was a huge invasion of my privacy. 

But, many officers hold strong that technology has helped policing more than it has hurt. Dennis Porter, who spent 30 years with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, says that when he started as a deputy, the only communication ability was the car radio. “We did not have handheld radios, you had to leave the mic hanging out the window on a call or stop if you thought you might need to get back to it in a hurry to ask for assistance,” he says. “When we got handheld radios it was great—officer safety went up. Before we had computers, you needed to have good police instincts to pull over a car … now all you have to do is play ‘license plate bingo’ with the computer.”

And, even if superiors are using technology to monitor an officer’s activities, it shouldn’t matter, he says. “As long as you are doing what you should be doing, who cares if there is a tracking device on your car? It can help on a dark night when you are in an emergency situation and you don’t know the name of the street you’re on. Now dispatch can find you and send help to your location,” Porter says.

John Currie, who spent 26 years in law enforcement operations in the U.S. and internationally, agrees that an officer’s privacy shouldn’t be part of the debate. “I would not be as concerned about an invasion of privacy as I would be about being covered by video or recording if I got into trouble. Why? Because I was a good cop. I knew I was following the right procedures and I was confident that I knew what I was supposed to do when I was on the job,” he says.   

This issue of getting into trouble is very real concern for many officers. Because there is so much litigation involving police officers, many LEOs seem to want the additional evidence that technology can offer. “Most officers appreciate the support these advancements have made in resolving false complaints,” says Dave Malone, who spent 31 years with the Eau Claire Police Department. “Blaming technology alone ignores other variables like management training and support, as well as the effects of generational changes.” In terms of litigation, one of the biggest mistakes jurisdictions can do is settle lawsuits without fighting unwarranted claims, he says. Now agencies often have the technology in place to prove officer actions, rather than rely solely on testimony. 

The reality is, advancements in technology will continue to happen. “Everything is changing and we all need to embrace change and keep up with it,” says Porter. “Change has been good overall, in regards to officer safety and equipment. You have to take some of the negative procedural ‘stuff’ with all the good that comes with these changes.”

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3 Responses to The World is Changing: Police Officers Must Embrace Technology Whether They Like It Or Not

  1. Robert Weisskopf March 22, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    Thank you very much for reading my article. I am glad that it fermented an open discussion. Please understand that I am not opposed to new electronic devices. I support their use anytime that an officer can be made safer. My only complaint is with the way departments may abuse them as a tool for mismanagement and discipline rather than officer safety. Unfortunately not every department will place officer safety over discipline. I can see that happening in some places.
    When I came on the job we carried one radio for two officers. We carried a 6 shot .38 cal revolver with 6 extra rounds in a dump pouch and no one wore their kevlar vests. That was not the good old days but they were a simpler time. We did have much more freedom of movement and my comment regarding an invasion of privacy probably stemmed from that. As I stated in my article “I see a valid need for all of these electronic tools. ” and “If we have to use these tools to check on our officers rather then their original designed purpose, then doesn’t this indicate a problem far greater that is eating at the core of our departments? ”
    If you read the entire article it is not an indictment of modern tools but rather of a departments failure to place any faith in their officers as I said in “Perhaps that is what police departments need to do. Hire the best, train them well, and then put a little faith in them to do the right thing. Allow the officers control over their work. Don’t micromanage them. They can do the job if you train them properly and then allow them to take charge. As they develop into better officers they become better supervisors too. When you have a good pool of supervisors to select from, your command staff will be that much better as well.”

    Thank you

    Bob Weisskopf

  2. Leischen Stelter March 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    Hi Bob,
    Thanks for your comments. I agree that there definitely needs to be a balance in the use of these tools. We certainly don’t want officers to feel stifled or restricted by technology, especially since it’s there to support them.

    Do you think the issue of supervisors abusing these technologies to discipline officers is a matter of poor training? Trying to stem off trouble before it becomes a public issue? Good old fashion egos?

    I can’t agree more that better training is often the best solution. But in terms of technology training, I would image it’s hard for departments to keep up. There seems to be a significant learning curve for everyone when it comes to proper use of technology in law enforcement.

    -Leischen

  3. Robert Weisskopf March 23, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    Leischen

    I think that the problem with the supervisors is multifaceted. Today supervisors are under such great pressure in many departments to show in improvement that they feel the need to micromanage the officers under them. The supervisor have been made to feel so insecure in their positions and therefore they have a very hard time allowing their officers to have any freedom in operations.
    The military has run into this issue as well. With computers on the front lines they have had a hard time allowing the front line troops fight the war without interfering. They have taken measures to eliminate this problem
    Police departments are still new to this kind of problem and it will take time and courage to develop the policies needed to properly deal with these new technologies.
    Departments need to develop leaders and not just managers. I addressed this in my article at http://lawenforcementtoday.com/2012/03/13/missing-leadership/. Unfortunately it is difficult to develop leaders and easy to develop managers.

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