Questions Posted to "Ask a Dispatcher"
Q. Under House Bill 88, it basically states that you cannot have any distractions in your vehicle such has tv's, computer monitors, etc. I can understand that. However there have been many numerous cases where I have personally scene JPD officers driving down Egan and other roads, paying more attention to their on board computers, or typing away on them as they are driving. To me this is somewhat hypocritical. I think its great that JPD has the ability to give officers more information about a case through their computers and any other information they might need, but Police Officers are supposed to be the front and foremost examples for citizens.
Dear Juneau Resident,
JPD wants to respond to the issue you brought up because it is on the cutting edge of police theory and the discussion in law enforcement circles is lively! I can't address HB 88 because when I looked it up, it was a different topic.
BILL: HB 88 SHORT TITLE: NO ENFORCEMENT OF VIOLATIONS OF INDIV RTS
CURRENT STATUS: (H) STA STATUS DATE: 01/18/11
SPONSOR(s): REPRESENTATIVE(s) GATTO
TITLE: "An Act prohibiting a court, arbitrator, mediator, administrative agency, or enforcement authority from applying a law, rule, or provision of an agreement that violates an individual's right under the Constitution of the State of Alaska or the United States Constitution."
Lets address the issue of distracted driving by officers. Some people still working at JPD remember when a patrol car had a police radio and a music radio. You didn't turn on the music radio for the first few months because you didn't want the distraction. Now even a brand new officer has video, juries love those tapes of DWI drivers, and a mobil computer. Distractions everywhere!
Generally bills about distracted driving contain exceptions both for people having an emergency and those in emergency services. That doesn't answer the question police departments are asking themselves and each other, "What is the best practice?"
The dilemma is a policy issue for departments. A policy can prohibit distractions because, of course, everyone sees the logic in police setting a good example. But what if an officer sees someone in a car he or she thinks has a warrant? If you run them on the air maybe an associate could hear and call that person's cell phone. That does happen. Things could escalate instead of the officer being able to act and get the person into custody before they have too much time to think about running, fighting, or using a weapon.
Then maybe an officer is at a light and sees an expired plate. The officer might try and confirm the expiration, using the time at the light well, but starts moving as it comes up. Do you criticize them for trying to get that info at that time?
An officer is going to a rapidly unfolding call involving people who have had a lot of police contact. They or their associates are probably monitoring a scanner so police need to stay off the radio so the individuals don't know they were reported. Dispatch has information that will impact the officer's tactics. The information might be about weapons or children in the house. Any reasonable person would want the officer to see that information, if they can do it safely, while continuing toward the call and staying off the radio. It is a delicate balance of citizen and officer safety interests and every situation will be different.
You can make a policy with exceptions for all of the above situations but then why have a rule if there are holes all over it?
So, JPD ends up back at telling officers to:
1. Make good decisions.
2. Always keep in mind that you are responsible for the safety of everyone around you on, or near, the road.
3. Consider public safety and your own safety at all times.
So far there hasn't been a dramatically better theory. Law enforcement around the country will continue to discuss the issue and nobody thinks it's going to get easier! There is technology on the horizon that projects data for police along the edge of the windshield and you can see through it...that is a long way off for JPD!