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Friday, November 30, 2012

There are no accidents in life, only divine coincidence.

My mom’s home was burglarized a few weeks ago.

When I received her frantic phone call, I went into my “cop mode” and asked how the thieves got in, what items were stolen, told her to cancel her credit cards and get her locks changed immediately.

During my fact gathering, I learned that it occurred in the middle of the night and the brazen burglars entered her unlocked car that was parked in the driveway and gained entry to the home by using the automatic garage door opener found inside the car.

The fleeting thought to scold her for making it so easy for the thieves was quickly replaced with the overwhelming relief that she wasn’t hurt (or worse) in the commission of the burglary. I shudder to think of what might have happened had she awoke to confront the burglars, and in that moment, I was grateful for her well-being despite the property that was stolen.

My mom told me the thieves took her iPad and iPhone among a long list of other items. However, she was giggling with satisfaction that the crooks got her first generation iPad and her iPhone 4 but didn’t find the iPhone 5 to which she had upgraded. She then added, “Now I have an excuse to get the newer iPad!" Because I get the technology nerd gene from my mother, I shared in this moment of gloating but realized something even more valuable.

My mom chose to see the positive in such a negative situation. After the deputies took a report, gathered evidence and left her house, she exclaimed, “I’m going out to lunch and I’m going to have a stiff drink.” I laughed at her and understood in that moment what I’ve known all along: The people who have a positive outlook on life are the ones who make the choice to see what is right instead of what is wrong.

After the stiff drink, my mom became a bit overwhelmed with the red tape she had to go through with the insurance company, closing bank accounts, getting an alarm system installed, etc., but she always fell back on the reality that her situation could have been far worse.

It reminded me of a quotation by author Eileen Caddy:

“The difficult situations and people in our lives are here to be our teachers. This may be easy to say when we are not mired in those difficulties, but the only way we make trouble into teachers is by remembering this when it really counts… There are no accidents in life, only divine coincidence.”

The teaching moment for my mom was that she needed to be more vigilant about the security of her home and car. I didn’t need to lecture her about protecting herself so she wouldn’t be an easy target because she learned that already. She just assumed that becoming a victim happened to “other” people so it was a not so gentle reminder that we can all be more conscious about our own safety and security.

The teaching moment was even bigger for me. It reminded me once again that the citizens we serve are more than just a police report, property taken or a crime statistic. They are human beings whose lives are greatly affected by criminal acts and if every police officer treated our citizens the way they would want their own family members to be treated, we would never get a complaint about customer service again.

So, the criminals got some electronics, my mom is getting a new iPad, and I get a divine coincidence to remind me that much of my gratitude and resilience was passed onto me from my mother. The way I see the world has a great deal to do with how she shaped it for me.

It’s not what happens to us, but how we deal with it that really matters.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"Mere Mortals" versus Police Officers

My recent column about texting and driving elicited an excited response from one of my readers in a Letter to the Editor that had nothing to do with texting and driving.

In his letter, the reader suggested that police officers should lead by example and offered that removing computers from police vehicles would be a start. He made a not so subtle accusation that police officers are privy to a double standard and thus we must be more skilled than the “mere mortals” to be able to operate a computer in a vehicle (his words, not mine).

Albeit off topic, I decided to bite.

Now, I take exception to the tone of the letter because it was extremely sarcastic and accusatory and I believe that we can have a spirited and respectful discussion even when we disagree. In fact, I welcome respectful dissent because the more we communicate, the more we begin to understand one another. Since we often criticize what we don’t understand, allow me to shed some light the reasons police vehicles are equipped with computers.

Much of police work is records-checking. Before mobile data computers, we would use our portable radios to communicate with dispatch to gather information on a person with whom we are interacting. These interactions include but are not limited to those we come in contact with on a traffic stop, an accident or a criminal investigation in which we are called to respond.

I’ll cite one of many scenarios. If you are involved in a traffic crash, the officer must obtain the information from each vehicle involved along with the information on the occupants of the vehicles. This includes data from the secretary of state from your license plate, your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) as well as your driving status. The officer must ensure that the vehicles match the registration (to determine if it is stolen) and if they are in compliance with the law. The officer “runs” the names through the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System (LEADS) which gives information on prior arrests, citations as well as if there are any outstanding warrants. This also lets the officer know if there are any warnings associated with an individual that might put the officer’s well-being in jeopardy.

The MDC’s allow the process to be much faster because the information flows directly to the officer. This means we can get the drivers on their way faster and we can move onto the next emergency.

I can hardly think of a profession these days that does not utilize a computer to assist in making data retrieval easier. The obvious difference is that your computer is on your desk and a police officer’s computer is in his/her squad car – which is the equivalent of their “office”.

Now that we’ve had a brief lesson to educate our reader (sometimes you have to fight sarcasm with sarcasm), I will capitulate to a valid concern from the reader because whether it be texting or operating a MDC in a moving vehicle, it is ALL distracted driving and thus, dangerous. His concern is worthy because some of our officers have been involved in an accident because they were looking at their computer while driving. These officers were disciplined as a result.

Our policy is strict and use of the MDC by the officer should generally be limited to times when the vehicle is stopped. When the vehicle is in motion, the officer should only attempt to read messages that are likely to contain information that is required for immediate enforcement, investigative or safety needs.

Is it a double standard as alleged by the reader? I would argue that it has to be given the scope of the information necessary for our officers to do their job and the exigency in which it is needed. Our officers are not updating their Facebook status on their MDC’s. They are obtaining information that might be crucial to their well-being – and yours.