Emergency Service

Boise Top Copper On Police Texting

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.”


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.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Rod in SE Boise
    Mar 22, 2010, 5:10 pm

    I would like to comment on one aspect of the Chief’s op-ed. He said:

    “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…”

    Some of us do not agree that any work officers may be doing is urgent enough to require texting while driving. Talking on a cell phone is distracting enough and texting is even more distracting. Perhaps police forces should scrap cell phones and laptops and go back to the old way: call the dispatcher on the two way radio and give the license number and the dispatcher can look up wants and warrents for the patrol officer.

  2. Lame excuses don't work.
    Mar 22, 2010, 8:08 pm

    For the life of me, I cannot understand how an officer can drive in traffic, type on a computer, and read the fool thing, all at the same time.

    I used to work for a trucking company. We installed state of the art gps tracking of cargo, a system that allowed the driver to “text” while driving. We suspected attention diversion related to texting when the first truck crashed. No such confusion with the second one. The sentence the trucker typed, about two seconds before impact, was, “I am so bored.”

    I don’t buy your excuse chief. If they need to type, they need to stop.

  3. Yeah OK Rod, and then when they get sent a call on the radio they can drive and write at the same time. I would prefer them reading a bit on a screen, then actually using a hand to write an address down, which is off the steering wheel, and eyes too off the road, when going to a man with a gun call, or man with a knife call etc etc. As I have said many times, you can complain here until you actually need someone to get to your aid quickly, then when they don’t, you will complain some more. So, take the high road for once (AGAIN as I have stated many times) and let them do the job that the majority do not want.

  4. Rod, you may not know this, but before laptops were in cars, all officers had notepads/pens. They would listen to the dispatcher (while driving) and write down addresses, phone numbers, names, and details of the call. Now, this is all provided via the computer & is much easier to glance at while maintaining more of ones focus on the road. It’s much safer IMHO. Please, if you have some statistical data to share showing that this is a problem, I’m all eyes.

    And Lame: just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean officers should stop what they’re doing. Hundreds of officers from EVERY agency in the valley drive, type, and read while in motion. It’s not as hard as you seem to think it is – again, we’re not talking about information on a tiny phone screen.

  5. It would be interesting to be able to monitor how much of the texting is busness, wife, girlfriend, kids & friends.

    EDITOR NOTE–All you have to do is ASK. The computer messages are public records. You have to pay for the costs to search the files and need a specific time, date, car, officer. Best to not just do a fishing trip through the records, but BPD can be quite cooperative when they receive a legitimate request they can understand.

  6. Since the computer “to” messages are screened often by dispatch supervisors and bpd supervisors, it would be the rare message sent or received from wife, etc. Those messages are not like phone text. You can only send and receive them with other emergency service computer terminals. The rank and file bpd, acso, gcpd do not have phone texting ability. Although I support regulating emergency responders, there also has to be the ability for them to do their job as well. Compared to the late 80’s when I started, it is much safer today using computers instead of jotting things down on a notepad while driving. Should there be reasonable precautions taken? Absolutely. Ultimately though law enforcement supervisors should deal with the 1percent who fail to take safe precautions and not flock shoot the 99percent who are.

  7. My first reaction was the same as Rod’s. Why not stick to “old school,” which seemed to work back before Bill Gates became a bajillionaire.

    But other posters have shed further light on “old school.”

    You’d think they could devise somewhat of a hybrid methodology. Cop calls the inquiry in. Somebody in dispatch – NOT risking crashing into a bystander, and not needing to scribble anything down – does the lookup duties and sends the results to the screen, where it can be glanced at.

    (If – no WHEN – a cop crashes into an innocent bystander, the loved ones of that bystander won’t be appeased by understanding how important and “official” the duties were. And Chief Masterson is absolutely correct when he says the police should be leading by example. They lose respect when they seem “above the law.”)

  8. Chief Masterson, I would like to thank you for taking the time to post here. It is an excellent example of “inclusion” by BPD in the public discourse.
    I would be interested in any examples, or statistics, that support the stand many have taken here. Just how many accidents, involving BPD vehicles, as a result of driving and texting, happen over a given period of time? I believe we make a mistake when we compare first responders to the driving abilities of the general public. Again, thank you.

  9. So, help me understand, it is a requirement that officers be able to multi-task while driving?

    A few weeks back I had to go to a place and used a set of Mapquest directions to get there via full page printout. I found that I actually had to pull over to read the directions in order to keep from drifting all over the roadway. I thought my driving skills were good enough to “read and follow directions” while driving and they were not!

    I can’t imagine anything important enough to put other drivers and vehicles at risk after that experience. People who do this are in a few words selfish and self-centered. It is dangerous and I would choose to support this as a primary offense on a drivers record if they are pulled over.

    Cops need to pull over as well.

  10. AT the very least they should have to turn off the radio when recording a stop. I am watching a video of an arrest right now and I can’t hear anything over the Brad Paisley blaring in the cop car…

  11. While this is a touchy subject regardless of which side of the fence you are on, I applaud the Chief for taking notice a common concern and addressing it head on. Whether the policies are agreeable to everyone will be another matter, but give the man credit for coming into a forum that is not always government friendly and laying a plan out on the table. I think other local government leaders should take note on how one official addressed a public issue, agree or diagree as you may, and maybe they should think about following suit.

  12. Law enforcement officers have no greater abilities to drive safely in traffic and text or type on computers than any other motorist. That fact has nothing to do with the urgency or importance of their jobs, which we all recognize. Use the two-way, BUCKLE UP and obey all traffic and vehicular laws the same as everyone else. The life you save could be your own.

  13. leave me alone
    Mar 23, 2010, 12:11 pm

    Has this texting bill in the legislature been killed yet or is it law? I cant believe our liberty loving gov would sign such a bill.

  14. Kappa TA, you are just being silly! Have you ever taken the “pursuit and defensive driving” course that every officer must pass during their Post training? Of course their skills are far superior to that of a civilian motorist! Sure, they need to be aware of the consequenses with driving while texting. I am in total support that they shouldn’t be “reading reports” while driving. I had a patrol officer behind me in traffic the other day. I noticed he was reading something on the back of a manilla envelope and was clearly distracted while he was behind me. There is a huge difference between reading and responding to a call.

  15. Cop gets killed while texting and driving = tragedy/occupational hazard + giant funeral.

    Citizen gets killed by cop texting and driving = tragedy/colateral damage + huge lawsuit.

    Sad to think about.

    Shouldn’t the bicycle cops have handlebar mounted computers? How can the motorcycle cops do their jobs without typing and texting while driving?

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