2000 — the year in review:
Technical advances in small packages
Palm-sized technology and other modest improvements adopted by police agencies in order to enhance the daily lot of their officers must have seemed a welcome relief from the multimillion-dollar computer software and hardware projects that many chiefs continued to struggle with in 2000.
At a Police Executive Research Forum conference last year, chiefs vented their frustrations during a seminar on law enforcement and technology. South Pasadena, Calif., Police Chief Michael Berkow told Law Enforcement News: “We hire people to be police officers, we don’t hire them to be computer programmers or data base experts. So what happens is police departments have always been great collectors of information, but they’ve never really used it that well. With CompStat and all these other processes, we’re really trying to use data to drive our operational, day-to-day stuff. This is very new to us. We don’t have a long history of expertise in doing that. And we don’t have the people.”
On top of that, such innovations as video cameras in cruisers and much-needed new radio communication systems were given second thoughts by some agencies last year, and in some cases, uninstalled, after they proved more troublesome than helpful.
The Irvine, Calif., Police Department in October removed video recording equipment from its fleet after just five years due to concerns that problems with the units’ audio system would give defense attorneys an edge. Officers would sometimes forget to turn the sound on, or it would be turned off accidentally when the switch brushed against clothing or equipment. Other times, the entire system malfunctioned. “You get into court and you present his type of evidence, and if your audio doesn’t work, it raises the question as to whether it was intentional,” said Lieut. Al Muir.
A highly-touted $80-million radio system for emergency crews in Orange County, Calif., was found not to be working properly. A grand jury in November listened to complaints from firefighters and police who said the new radios sometimes failed to pick up calls from dispatchers, produced garbled messages, delayed communications and sometimes did not work inside buildings.
In Burleigh, N.D., the police and fire dispatch center installed an additional $370,000 in software in November that would not have been necessary had existing software been adequately updated for Y2K compliance. Trouble began on Jan. 1 when the Y2K modifications did not work and local officials got no help from the Lexington, Ky.-based software company, A.L. Roarke & Associates. “We’re very dependent on the support of the company that sold us the program,” said Chief Deborah Ness. “As the program should have been changed, or progressed, [Roarke] was no longer there for us.”
Of course, some departments had no problems moving ahead with planned purchases of video equipment for their fleets last year. The Schaumberg, Ill., police announced plans in June to install recording devices in each of its 28 cars over the next year, with the project funded by the $100 surcharge the agency collects for each DUI conviction. In Michigan, the State Police received a $247,892 grant from the Justice Department to expand the number of vehicles equipped with video gear to 186, while the Detroit and Grand Rapids police departments also outfitted patrol cars with the equipment.
Less-than-lethal weaponry continued to gain popularity last year, with a number of agencies liking the results they achieved using beanbag rounds, Tasers and other devices.
Little Rock, Ark., police in October used a beanbag round to stun a 34-year-old woman who had run out of her house clutching a knife to her chest.
In July, a woman was prevented from committing suicide when Albuquerque police used two beanbag rounds to stop her from igniting fumes from a gasoline tank.
A knife-wielding man was subdued in June by Baltimore police who struck him with a beanbag round after pepper-spray failed to have any effect. The 18-year-old had been holding his child hostage.
A $240,000 state grant will help the San Diego Police Department buy non-lethal weapons such as beanbags and Tasers.
In Bellevue, Wash., where seven officers were injured by violent suspects over the span of a few weeks, the Police Department invested $3,200 in October for eight new Taser guns.
In Arlington County and Alexandria, Va., police began using Palm Pilots personal digital assistants outfitted with a software package for evaluating recruits. The program, Adore (Automated Daily Observation Report and Evaluation), saves field training officers hours of time that would otherwise be spent writing reports.
“It’s taken an extremely paper-intensive process that played its part in contributing to FTO burnout, and instead made it something that is very easy to do in the course of a shift,” Arlington County Police Chief Edward Flynn told Law Enforcement News in November.
The agency became a test site for the Palm Pilot Adore in August, purchasing 30 new PDAs as part of a $15,000 program. It provides computerized note-taking while FTOs are watching their trainees work. The reports are then fed into a headquarters computer. In conjunction with another program, supervisors can track, study and compare recruits.
Not all advances in equipment were of the high-tech variety. One low-tech improvement that helped police on patrol last year was a battery-powered motor that can drive a bicycle for up to 20 minutes at 18 to 20 miles an hour. Some 130 electric-assisted bicycles were given to officers in Illinois by Commonwealth Edison in 2000.
“One of the big things on biking is that when you pull up to a scene, you’re often out of breath,” Round Lake Park Comdr. George Filenko told The Chicago Daily Herald. “But with this, you can use the motor for a while before you arrive and be rested by the time you get there and have to deal with the situation.”