May 16, 2016
30 years ago this month, I began my career in law enforcement in a small town in rural western Maryland. Looking back, in many ways, I had more in common with a lawman from the Wild West than today’s police officer. Yes, I had a patrol car instead of a horse, and radio communication was standard practice. But we were issued revolvers, batons, and a pair of handcuffs not much different than that lawman of long ago, and sent out into the community to investigate crimes and interact with citizens in much the same way it had been done for the previous century, albeit with incremental advancements along the way, such as the afore-mentioned police car and radios, and the introduction of the foundational concepts of forensic science, including fingerprint identification and tool mark examination.
The vast array of technologies at today’s law enforcement officer’s disposal – in car computers, cell phones, multi-band software defined radios, and tasers – were the stuff of science fiction to my younger self. The notion that an officer could have a portable device in his car to scan and capture the fingerprint of an individual, that in near real time would give you a criminal history or wanted check on that person, was unthinkable. Or that you would have an automated license plate reader mounted on your vehicle’s trunk that could automatically scan every vehicle that passed you on the road, or as you rode through a parking lot and let you know almost instantaneously if the vehicle was stolen, had improper registration, or that its registered owner was wanted on an outstanding warrant. The use of personal computers and advent of the internet introduced a whole new set of tools for law enforcement to use for investigating crimes and sharing information with other law enforcement agencies across the country. At the same time, this same technology introduced new types of criminal activity that required new technologies and investigative techniques to address. Advances in DNA technology have radically changed how evidence is collected and analyzed, and have helped to successfully identify and convict – and equally important, conclusively prove the innocence of – many who have been accused of crimes. In three short decades that have passed all too quickly since I began my law enforcement career, technology has transformed every part of our lives, and has had a profound impact on the way law enforcement officers perform their daily tasks.
As we celebrate National Police Week and honor those officers who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to their communities, it is also fitting to acknowledge one of the most important technologies ever introduced to law enforcement – ballistic-resistant body armor.
In the early 1970’s, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) was on the leading edge of introducing this technology, as well as developing minimum performance standards and a voluntary compliance testing program. The impact of the use of ballistic-resistant body armor is well documented, with over 3,000 officers lives saved in the past 40-plus years. The staff of the NIJ Compliance Testing Program at JTIC are honored to serve the law enforcement community through the operation of this program. We encourage all law enforcement officers to wear their body armor every day, and to learn more about our program through the resources available on JUSTNET.org and PoliceArmor.org. On this site, a video entitled Surviving In the Line of Fire has several first hand testimonials from survivors, including the very first survivor. These powerful stories are a reminder of the importance of using this life-saving technology every day. If you have questions about our program and how we can be of assistance, contact us toll-free at (800) 248-2742 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To all the men and women in law enforcement, thank you. And stay safe. Wear your armor every day.