By Hal Collier, Retired LAPD
Computers changed police work in a disturbing way. I was taught to use police instincts which you only gained by experience. You questioned what was obvious and never take what someone says at face value. It didn’t matter whether you were questioning a victim, a witness or the suspect, they all told their story that benefited them. Good questioning is now a dying art.
As an example I was training a young probationer and, to put it mildly, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. We stopped a car and I told him before he got out of the car, “Careful. I think the cars stolen!”
He walked right up to the driver’s window with his flashlight in his gun hand!
Geez, no wonder I lost my hair. The car was an unreported stolen and later, when I asked the probationer why he walked up to the car he answered, “The computer said it wasn’t stolen!” The new generation of cops are relying on computers to tell them how to do police work.
As everyone knows computers can have bad days or maybe they just screw up. I was walking my foot beat in a dark alley when this Ford pulls into the parking lot. The driver looks rather nervous as he walks away from the car.
I run the license and the RTO (Radio Telephone Operator or dispatcher) replies, “No want. DMV [says it’s] a 75 Chevy R/O (Registered Owner) lives in Northern California.”
Cool. I have me a possible stolen vehicle with cold plates. This car is a Ford. I track down the driver and using the academy-taught tactics, I make him lie on the ground while I point my Smith & Wesson 38 Caliber revolver at center body mass!
As I’m handcuffing him he is demanding my badge number and name. I have had so many people ask for my badge number I thought it was common knowledge. It was Policeman Badge #3845 for those of you that forgot it.
I had the RTO run the VIN [vehicle identification number] and she returns with a 75 Ford, and the license plate that’s on the car.
Oops. How can that be she just told me it was a Chevy? The RTO runs the license again and even a third time, it’s a 75 Ford registered to my soon to be dusted off suspect. My suspect hands me two forms of ID, one is a California driver license and the other is a LAPD ID card which indicates my suspect is a RTO for the same department I work for. How can this get any worse?
My sergeant comes out to the parking lot and documents the RTO’s complaint. I go to the station to try and figure what the hell went wrong! I barely get in the back door and the Watch Commander [W/C] tells me I have a phone call from the Communications Watch Commander.
Oh goody. Probably more bad news! I was about to be surprised.
The Communications Watch Commander advises me that the RTO was not in error but the computer fouled up. She also told me that the suspect RTO I stopped is a disgruntled employee and no one likes him. The Communications W/C says they will be doing an investigation on him for being in a known drug location while on a sick day. See? Sometimes the sun shines in the middle of the night. I never heard another word about the incident and I didn’t ask either.
Ok one more story about Dispatchers. I was a sergeant in Hollywood, that’s right working in the dark just before the newspaper boys deliver your paper. An ambulance “cutting” call comes out at 1640 Las Palmas. That’s just a half a block from Hollywood Boulevard. I’m sitting in my car as the RTO broadcasts another ambulance “cutting” at Hollywood and Las Palmas. I advise the RTO that it’s the same call and to cancel the second unit.
The RTO responds, “No the computer says it’s a different reporting district.”
I advise her, “It’s the same call and the computer is wrong.” I’ve just committed a sin; computers don’t make these kind of mistakes.
She again politely tells me that there two different calls.
Ok, time to stop arguing. In my best firm “I’m the Sergeant” voice I say, “I’ve worked Hollywood for 30 + years and I’m looking at both locations from the front seat of my newest model police car. Assign me the second call!” It was the end of our discussion.
Trust the veteran who’s at scene.
Next — open microphones! Hal