In determining how law enforcement agencies can get officers to buy into a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, it may be prudent to start with what initially piqued their interest in the profession. Most people, including law enforcement officers, got their perception of police work from movies and TV. It may have been Dragnet, Adam-12, or Andy Griffith for those that started decades ago, or perhaps Blue Bloods, First Watch, or Law and Order a little more recently.
Regardless, one of the aspects Hollywood and pop culture in general conveniently leaves out of their shows is the amount of paperwork that comes with a police officer’s job. Granted, the paper has largely been replaced by computers, but reports must still be written, and data entry completed. The job’s administrative side is not one of the action-packed duties portrayed in the cop shows of any generation.
The Process of CAD Implementation
As is the case with most technologies, CAD evolved into its current form, and it continues to advance. Agencies did not go from handwriting reports with carbon paper to the modern CAD system overnight. As such, the buy-in from officers was incremental. Those who embraced the advantages of technology soon found themselves writing better reports and doing it faster. This resulted in less time at the police station and more time where officers want to be: out on the street.
For those officers who initially resisted technology, it did not take long to see their coworkers reaping the benefits of CAD. When combined with an agency’s records management system (RMS), CAD became even more advantageous. Eventually, vehicle-mounted laptops, also known as mobile data terminals (MDT), were introduced, further advancing the officer’s efficiency.
As noted, these advances did not happen overnight, and neither did the officer buy-in. Two main concepts are credited with increasing an officer’s willingness, even desire, to embrace CAD and other technologies. The first is primarily based on generational factors. Police officers entering the academy today have never known a world without the internet and cell phones. In a few years, young officers will not have known life without a smartphone and wifi. It is important to note, however, that this factor is not automatic. Many officers from Generation X, especially those desiring to advance in their careers, have also welcomed technology while the occasional younger officer has been resistant to its acceptance.
The second area, which has shown a propensity for officer buy-in, is the progression factor. As discussed, CAD and similar technology has been introduced relatively slowly. But technology in general, including developments in CAD, have increased the speed at which they advance. In other words, an advancement in the 90s which may have taken the entire decade now tends to occur in months. As a result, police officers, and society in general, have come to expect these advances. Today’s law enforcement officer largely welcomes the next CAD or RMS update to see how it will make their job easier.
CAD: What’s in it for Me?
When a new process is introduced to an organization, an inevitable question from the user, audible or otherwise, is, “what’s in it for me?” This question may initially seem off-putting, but when taken from the employee’s perspective, a police officer, for example, the inquiry is not selfish but rooted in a benefit to both the officer and the agency. What’s in it for me, easily translates to, “how will this make me a better officer? Will this help me do my job?”
Most officers see the benefits of their agency’s CAD system and, as stated, are often eager to see what may be next. However, occasionally, the natural human resistance to change kicks in. Perhaps the latest update does not immediately appeal to officers. Maybe it seems like more work rather than helping with efficiency. These are the occasions when software providers and agency management must work together to introduce the new technology and its advantage to the user. Having answers to what’s in it for me, can be instrumental to officer buy-in.
As an example, when CAD technology began to integrate with RMS, it probably seemed a little daunting to the field officer who was just getting used to accessing CAD for their written reports. Once the advantages were shown, officers quickly saw that auto-populating fields in their report writing database saved time and energy. Finding details about previous encounters with suspects without having to comb dozens, sometimes hundreds, of pages of report narratives, equated to building better cases. Search features meant finding information that may have been seemingly unimportant in a prior report but is highly significant to a current investigation.
CAD Buy-in Means Better Cases and More Time on the Street
Eventually, and it does not take long, CAD’s advantages in making better cases adds to the buy-in factor. Police officers want to solve crimes and make good arrests. Having accurate information available through CAD and RMS can increase the number of leads, identify potential suspects and witnesses, and provide other forms of evidence. When all of these details appear in a professionally written report—prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys are quick to recognize the quality of the overall investigation. This rings true for both the patrol officer who makes arrests for DUI, domestic violence, shoplifting, and other crimes, to the detective investigating burglaries, robberies, and homicides.
Ultimately, one of the main buy-in factors for police officers in embracing CAD and other technology is reducing time spent on administrative duties. No one made a popular TV show about cops writing reports, and with good reason, no one would have watched it. Instead, officers want to use technology for their advantage, which often means getting back on the streets and doing what they got into this profession to do: save lives and protect their community.