The buy-in from officers who use new technology is essential. Training must be realistic and tailored to the officer’s environment. Here, training takes place in the officer’s patrol car, and the material is projected onto the side of the police department building so that several officers can train at one time. Photo Dale Stockton
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
When I was director of operations for the Los Angeles Police Department, I found it extremely helpful to occasionally partner with a field officer. One evening I showed up for roll call at our Foothill Area Station in my field uniform. The lieutenant watch commander, anticipating my arrival, had teamed me up with a venerable, somewhat salty, street cop. He’d chosen well. My partner was well experienced and not intimidated by “brass.” He was prepared to give me his candid opinions and suggestions.
As we walked toward our black and white patrol car, he asked, “Do you want to drive or write?”
“When someone comes into my office, I show them where to sit. This is your office. You tell me where you want me to sit,” I replied.
Surprised, he asked, “Do you really mean that, sir?”
“Then you will write tonight,” he said in a somewhat commanding voice, as he tossed me the logbook.
Our patrol cars had just been equipped with mobile digital transceivers (MDTs). These first-generation computers were designed to make our officers more effective and provide them with more information. As we rolled out of the station parking lot, our MDT beeped, and a text message appeared on the screen, assigning us a “415 Neighbor Dispute.” I hit the “received” button and copied down the address on our log. A few minutes later, my partner had to help me fill out a battery-crime report. (The suspect had fled the scene.) Our reporting protocol had changed significantly.
Later, we sat in the patrol car preparing to leave the scene. He told me to “dispo” the call on the MDT. He explained we needed to tell the system what action we’d taken in order to clear that assignment and become available for other calls. I assumed I could type in a common statement such as “Took battery-crime report.” The system refused my entry. My partner began to snicker. He handed me a small booklet he took from his uniform pocket. Through his help, I finally found the correct entry for battery-crime report. It was an alphanumeric code, something like FN-86707, with a complicated protocol of computer instructions similar to this: ENTER@DISPO@17A27@FN-86707. I asked my partner why I couldn’t just type in a simple statement. He replied, “That’s what several thousand field officers would like to know. Sir.”
The computers did offer the officers access to various databases, reduce traffic on crowded voice channels and give our command and control centers valuable information on the deployment of our field units. But, they were not user friendly. Later, I determined some of the complications I experienced were due to the limitations of these first-generation computers. But, some of the difficulties resulted from a basic problem that can exist with all new technology: Management may tend to focus on their own objectives rather than the objectives of the field officers they serve. This problem does not stem from selfishness or lack of concern for the field officer. It comes from a natural tendency to focus attention on their own immediate objective of building a system that will work well for the “bean counters” and management.
We eventually changed our MDT protocols, making the system more user friendly for the men and women doing the actual job of policing.
Guidelines for New Technology
New technology can greatly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of law enforcement. To ensure that it does, infuse every process of technology development, testing, purchase, installation and implementation with a basic question: How will this impact field officers? Involve field officers in these processes. They know what will work and what will create problems.
Next, precede every anticipated technology change with an ambitious information project. Humans fear the unknown. To reduce fear and resistance, reveal as much information as possible about the unknown. Explain the technology’s purpose. Remain open and transparent about the plans for testing and possibly implementing the technology. For a massive change of technology over an extended time period, distribute a regular newsletter for all hands to help dispel damaging rumors. Solicit input in such a publication to reduce emerging problems.
Finally, whenever possible, implement a pilot project before making a full commitment. You can assign a small number of units to a sample of field officers, and put in place a research design that will accurately surface any problems with the new technology. Nothing can replace actual experience with the proposed equipment.
Police operations can adapt and become more effective with technology changes, but only when the technology serves rather than hinders those doing the important job of policing—on point.