Boise PD Chief Mike Masterson has monitored the GUARDIAN coverage and comments from readers on the issue of police texting. Here are his thoughts to the GUARDIAN. EDITOR NOTE– For sake of discussion we can define TEXTING as “reading or typing messages on electronic devices which require the driver of a motor vehicle to divert his attention and vision from the road ahead.”
By CHIEF MIKE MASTERSON, Boise PD
First, thank you for generating the discussion of this important issue with your readers. I’ve read some of the comments and responses you’ve received on “texting” and hope you would offer a common definition we can all operate under vs. one which is open for interpretation and causing varied responses from law enforcement agencies around the nation.
I think we can all agree cell phone texting is unacceptable and law enforcement should set the example for what we know is a dangerous and potentially deadly practice. These devices are far too small and distract even the best drivers from concentrating on the operation of their vehicles. (Boise Police will likely have a policy prohibiting cell phone texting within the next 30 days. The policy will impact the ranks of Lieutenant and above as those groups currently have text capability on their handheld devices while patrol officers and detectives do not) While it’s not ideal.. it is better than what 33 other STATES have on their books today)
Unfortunately, we must rely on other forms of “texting” to do our work. Our legislature recognizes that need by providing exemptions for first responders. Ideally, law police officers would possess the latest voice activated technology to remain hands free. We’ve made tremendous strides in creating programmed buttons on our mobile computers that cut down on keystrokes, i.e. texting, but we still have to enter license plates, state, to gain information for our safety and the public’s, too.
I am unaware of any police agency in the nation that prohibits officers from “running a 28 – 29” on a license plate while driving on the highway, road, or streets. I consider that texting. Boise Police had admitted to occasionally performing these task while moving and I suspect all other police agencies do the same. That trooper traveling down the interstate, seeing a possible stolen vehicle, doesn’t pull over in the accident lane, losing sight of the vehicle, to “run” the license plate. The deputy of a rural two lane road doesn’t stop on the side of the road after spotting a suspicious vehicle, wait for the registration and wanted check to come back then turn around to find the vehicle. We do try and mitigate when we run checks by advising officers to perform their inquiries while at stop lights, etc. but there are times when we must perform the work while moving.
I think the discussion thread could be made more productive if: 1) your readers were operating from a standard definition of what police functions constitute “texting” and 2) readers understand the urgency of the work we do and offer constructive comments that assist us in improving our systems to create safer roads for all users. And, as some readers have pointed out, texting is a necessary part of the job which has been going on for decades with virtually no accident data to indicate police are the problem.
In a perfect world, we’d love to have the latest voice activated hands free technology to do our work, but in the absence of that expensive equipment, even if it existed today and we could afford it, we continue to balance the work we do with the safety of others in mind.
These are important issues on how we police our community which deserve discussion and input from the people we serve in a variety of sounding boards, meetings, etc. Thanks for providing one of those forums.
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