While police officers are like everyone in that they own and carry around smartphones for personal use, in recent years smartphones have increasingly become a part of an officer’s professional equipment. They can be used to call in reports, email witnesses, and take pictures of crime and accident scenes. However, they also bring with them potential issues and complications that police officers should be aware of.
There is no question that smart phones bring with them significant benefits for law enforcement officers. A smart phone can be an invaluable tool while an officer is on patrol. One of its main pros in this context is that it gives an officer the ability to communicate with individuals who don’t have access to a radio; it also serves as a backup communication device in case the radio signal is compromised. Smart phones also give officers access to real time information via the internet that can be utilized during disasters or community events.
Smart phones also give any officer the capability to take relatively high quality photos at crime scenes that can then be used in subsequent investigations. Officers at the scene can also pass along pictures of suspects and vehicles to their counterparts on patrol. Smart phone cameras can also be used during disturbances to help disperse crowds and provide evidence later of what the conditions on the ground were like.
On the other hand, smart phones can act as a potentially dangerous distraction to officers on duty. They can adversely affect situational awareness, or even cause an officer to momentarily lose sight of a suspect. A significant legal pitfall is the potential for officers’ posts and tweets to be used in court to attack their credibility. Ill-advised social media posts can also hurt community relations, or even ruin an officer’s career.
Another common issue is the use of smart phones while officers are driving their vehicles. Many states have enacted legislation that prohibits using smart phones while driving; however, in states like California officers have been exempted from this law. Oftentimes this is something that is regulated on the department level. Many departments have embraced the new technology by issuing their officers smart phones, but forbid their use while driving. This is indicative of the give and take approach police forces across the country are taking with this and other emerging technologies.
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