New Tech Brings New Issues to Public Safety Agencies

In Osceola County, Fla., Special Operations Lt. Amaury Murgado is admittedly an old-school guy. Although Murgado said he has come around to the idea of all the technology on the job, he bristles when it’s not used properly as one deputy found out the hard way.

“He had his nose dug into that mobile data computer,” Murgado said. “He never noticed that the driver and passenger were changing positions because the driver was wanted for aggravated assault. He managed to sneak out of the vehicle under the deputy’s nose —walked around and escaped.”

The deputy was so absorbed by his vehicle’s data terminal that he didn’t notice until it was too late: a huge mistake in Murgado’s opinion. A suspect can kill a police officer who’s not paying attention, and Murgado disciplined the deputy for the mishap. “Technology’s a wonderful thing but not when it’s used as a crutch,” he said.

In Boston, new police department recruits wonder why they can’t use their iPhones for certain tasks, and they’d rather use a smartphone than their radio. It’s part of the growth in public safety as agencies try to adopt policies to acknowledge and leverage the influx of young employees who grew up with mobile technology.

 

A Shift in the Workplace

As elsewhere, younger employees enter the workforce ready to operate electronic gadgets that they use on personal time.

“People sit there in class on their iPads and they type stuff in,” said Donald Denning, Boston’s public safety CIO. “We have the same thing in police and fire and EMS. As younger people come into the workforce, they demand that technology.”

But a technological generation gap isn’t unique to today’s workplace, and the youngest workers aren’t the only ones forcing change. Denning ran into a fifth-generation firefighter who didn’t want to use a mobile computer at work because he preferred the radio, and Denning challenged him on that line of thinking.

He told the gentleman, “Let me guess. So your great-grandfather was the same guy who, when we put those radios into those trucks, he said, ‘I’m not going to use that new-fangled thing. I’m going to go to that box and use that telegraph.’”

Denning likens today’s technology transition to that same situation from the past, especially with so many officers ditching radios for mobile phones. “We have entire units of people who don’t carry radios anymore just because they don’t need to, and it doesn’t fit their business model,” he said. “Those guys are creating an unbelievable demand on us because now they want more.”

Mallorie Teubner, director of information sharing programs for the nonprofit organization Search, noticed the same kind of shift when she was assisting the Navajo Nation Tribal Police Department with its IT strategic planning earlier this year. Officers purchased their own cellular data cards to use on department mobile computers so they’d have personal access to police data.

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