Dear Bullethead: I work in the northern part of the country for a sheriff’s department that covers several hundred square miles of territory. Sometimes our backup is a long ways off, and, quite frankly, sometimes we’re just watching big rocks waiting to become little rocks. That said, it’s been a great place to work.
Until recently. One of the bosses managed to get a grant and plans to equip all of our cars with an automatic vehicle locator (AVL) system that will let dispatch and the supervisor know where we are at any time.
This just doesn’t seem right to me. Part of what I love about this job is the independence and autonomy. It’s not like I plan on doing anything wrong; it’s just the idea of somebody watching everything I do really grates on me. One of the other deputies told me he used to work for an agency that had this system, and officers would cut the wire to the antenna or put a can over the thing so it wouldn’t work.
There are a lot of other things that we could buy instead of these Sergeant Hidden In Trunk devices. What do you think?
Dear Anti AVL:
Sounds like you enjoy your job and work in a fairly nice place. I’ve spent some time in the country, and I really enjoyed it. I love to go out and look at the beautiful scenery and meet the super nice people who will go far out of their way to help out anyone in need. I’m a city cop though, and the one thing that gets me about the sticks is when I run into the country ghetto. I don’t think there’s anything worse. Everywhere I look, I see nothing but 12-toed sister-kissers, and when I see them, I start hearing banjo music and thinking about the movie Deliverance.
OK, enough about my fear of the country ghetto. I find all this AVL stuff fairly interesting. The brass sells these things as officer-safety and officer-efficiency devices. Let’s start with the officer-safety side, and we all need to be adults for this part.
If I’m ambushed and made to pay the ultimate price, the AVL does absolutely nothing for my officer safety. It might help the department get to me sooner and even assist with the investigation, but I’m already dead. That makes the AVL an investigative tool, not an officer-safety device. I want the SOB in jail or better more than anyone, but if the AVL is really about officer safety, it would help save my life, not find my corpse.
Obviously, this is the most extreme situation. If I’m not dead and they’re looking for me, the AVL is a fantastic tool. I suppose the only way to give a final opinion on this scenario would require actually studying police ambushes to find out how often some scumbag goes to the trouble of planning to lie in wait and attack the cops, but then doesn’t finish the job. Hey, I said we needed to be adults for this! There’s just about nothing worse than delusional cops or delusional management making decisions without actually looking at the reality of the situations they hope to affect.
An AVL will probably provide much better service in a traffic accident, especially for those of you out in the sticks. If us city coppers fall asleep at the wheel and punch through the wall of a donut shop or take out a telephone pole, we’re gonna get noticed fairly quickly, and help will head our way in no time. For the backwoods police, however, it could be a bit different. I’ve got an old, old friend who was an Oregon state trooper years ago. One of his jobs was to drive out to the end of his beat and check the highways for ice. When he told me that story, I remember saying, “Wow, you must have to get out of the car a lot.” I nearly pooped myself when he told me they didn’t get out of the car, they would just roll through the slush, snow or whatever and tap their brakes to see if they started to slide. I believe that’s a bit like checking for mines with a basketball, but that’s just me—I don’t work in the sticks, so I won’t question nutty tactics for finding ice. Anyway, if my old friend flew off the road and was injured but alive, the AVL would be a great way to find him quickly.
Now let’s take a quick look at the efficiency argument. It sounds like your system was sold primarily as an efficiency tool. These things are a dream come true if you’re a bean counter … with no understanding of police work. An AVL is the perfect recipe for getting cops to calls sooner while saving on gas and wear and tear on units. The problem: Good cops who know how to take care of each other will answer calls for all sorts of reasons. Maybe the AVL sends a cop who was already down a few reports. Maybe another cop is interested in that sort of call for training. Maybe the cop who was originally sent is just getting ready to get some chow. Regardless, the AVL just became useless efficiency-wise, and as long as good cops watch each others’ backs, that’s how it will stay.
So, if these things are just another piece of useless gear sitting in a police car making some little red light blink in dispatch, why do so many cops care about them? Simple. Cops think these things will be used against them in every way possible. If policy says no more than three cops can hang out somewhere, the little red lights will give away that fourth cop. If some cop reports they were driving 30 mph when they got into an accident, the AVL will verify—or reveal—the truth. If some cop spends two hours of every day parked at a house where their spouse doesn’t live, it won’t take long to figure it out. The bottom line: Even good cops hate it when someone or something makes sure they’re accountable, and that’s what the AVL device does.
Hopefully these things will quickly smoke out bad cops and rule breakers so we don’t have to deal with them. My advice to you? Get over it! If you want to hang out with four cops and the AVL dimes you out, who cares? If your agency gets upset over something like that, screw them, go someplace else. If you get in an accident, tell the truth about your speed. If you fool around on your wife, plan on eventually getting caught anyway. An AVL will just make it happen sooner.
Enjoy your agency, enjoy the country, avoid the country ghetto freaks and just deal with the AVL cause it really isn’t that big a deal either way.
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