Police adapt to be adept with new technology

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Years ago, a police officer in the city of Athens would sit in a cruiser, virtually cut off from the rest of the police force thanks to the use of a minimal range radio. The officer may point a a large, megaphone-like device at your vehicle as you drove by to check your speed, then possibly pull out a pencil and pad to write you a citation. At the end of the day, reports would be painstakingly handwritten to ensure legibility.

Now, with the advancement of modern technology, the tools of the trade for a police officer are much different in both form and function.

Athens Police Department Chief Tom Pyle has been wearing a badge for about 25 years. Although he is proficient with today’s technology, he still remembers — and occasionally longs for — the days of old.

“There are times when it’s tough to negotiate the tech world … Just give me a piece of paper and let me write the charge,” he said. “I think most of the older officers feel the same way.”

Rick Crossen, another veteran at APD, also remembers having to use pencil and paper to write tickets. He remembers being frustrated by creating reports on a typewriter, too.

“Some of that stuff was inconvenient but it’s all we knew at the time,” said Crossen. “Sometimes though, I think the old stuff would better but I like the computers, the new technology and I don’t think I’d want to go back.”

Pyle maintains some of the old equipment for nostalgia and historic purposes. In or around his office are a 1989 radar gun, a 1970s radio used by a dispatcher, a 1960s intoxilyzer and an old composite sketch system complete with moveable noses, eyes and mustaches.

The old radio was based on low bandwidth and had a range of only about a mile. Not ideal for an officer who may be overwhelmed by a potentially dangerous incident. The old radar gun in particular was not only large and clunky but also turned out to pose a serious health risk.

Pyle explained that an officer may sit in a cruiser during a shift, turn on the radar gun and point it at oncoming traffic. When not in direct use, however, the officer may simply lower the speakerphone-like head toward his lap without turning the radar off. This process, repeated over time, led to higher than normal rates of prostate and testicular cancer in male officers. (The one in Pyle’s office remains in the ‘off’ position.)

Officers now have access to some state-of-the-art technology including radars that are much smaller, more reliable, easier to calibrate and have no reports of health issues. The radio used now is MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communication System) which boasts much greater range than a mile. In fact, the MARCS allow officers to communicate with each other around the entire state.

With cellphones as prevalent as they are in today’s society, every officer likely carries one as well. Cellphones are useful tools of law enforcement, Pyle said. Taking pictures, texting information and using GPS are just some features beneficial to officers. Cellphones can also be confiscated and the information on them can be used as evidence.

Whereas the police department used to own only one computer — used by the chief, mainly for staff memos — every officer and every cruiser has access to a computer in today’s police force. Records are no longer kept in paper format, every detail is retained digitally.

Even parking meters have gone digital, giving users the ability to pay for parking by using an app on a smartphone.

There are still some avenues of technology that haven’t made their way to the local police departments. Surveillance cameras are so sophisticated that they can be great tools in identifying suspects in crimes that are committed in range of the devices. Many of the city’s cameras though are not able to produce the highest resolution and the cost to upgrade is still too pricey for small municipalities.

In time however, these technological advances currently in use by police will become obsolete as well. Perhaps one day, the police chief’s office will contain antiques such as smartphones, Cloud-based operating systems, terabyte hard drives and ultra high-definition monitors.