Technology has moved forward in leaps and bounds in many aspects of life in recent years.

That includes law enforcement. Long-time Old Town police officers Willie King and Jim Fearon, for instance, remember a time when they basically carried a flashlight, a nightstick and a shotgun. Reports were typed on manual typewriters; instead of photocopiers, there were mimeograph machines. Call cards and reports filled file cabinets that filled rooms.

But that was then, and this is now. And for the greater part, the technological changes have been for the better, said members of the Old Town Police Department.

At the administrative level, the advent of the computer has been a game changer, said Deputy Chief Lee Miller.

“It wasn’t always easy at first. When I first started in 2001, you had to use the function keys in MS-DOS to enter data,” said Miller.

King goes back further, with a career spanning 34 years. Then, police weren’t even using computers.

“We had electric, even some older manual typewriters,” said King. “And we had to have five copies of everything. It was slow and time consuming.”

Gradually, computers came into play, starting with the old 5 and a ¼ inch floppy drive machines that today would be found laughably slow and limited. Now, modern, high speed computers are used, both in the office and in cruisers. Officer can do everything from file reports, running driver records, and checking their schedule by logging on.

“It’s made everything administratively a lot easier, made things more efficient,” said Miller. “We can pretty much access everything online, even policies and a lot of training. We also now can use bar codes for evidence, which makes it easier to find too. There are more rules and regulations to deal with, but overall, the administrative end is a lot more efficient.”

While paperwork has been streamlined, officer now have much more – and improved – equipment for working in the field; in addition to a weapon, flashlight and nightstick, they have spike mats, crime tape, tasers, shields, pepper spray, and more. Their vests have been improved, to make carrying all that equipment, which can be heavy, easier on the back. Officers also have body cams to record their dealings with incidents.

The vehicles officers travel in are far different as well. The Ford Crown Victorias officers typically drove a few years ago have been replaced with front wheel drive SUVs.

“The Crown Vics would turn on a dime, but they weren’t much good in snow,” said King.

Local police vehicles have had cameras for years, added Miller, but they’ve changed with time.

“The first ones we had used VHS tapes, set to extended recording time,” said Miller. “Now we have a wireless system, where the information is downloaded when an officer pulls into the station. Basically, the cruiser is like a rolling computer. We even have plate readers now that notify us when someone has stolen plates, is a crime fugitive, or possibly involved in an incident.

Even the choice of firearms have changed over time, with several pistols having been used over time. King said he started out with a .38, then had a .357; officer now carry a .40 caliber, but there are plans to go to 9mm pistols with optical sights, said Miller.

“They have a lot better accuracy,” said Miller.

All that technology isn’t a perfect solution for police. It comes with a cost, and it isn’t inexpensive. And it’s always changing, said Miller, making it tricky, come budget time, to figure out what should be purchased.

“It makes us give big ticket items even more thought,” said Miller. “We have to wonder, ‘Is a better model coming out soon? Should we wait until then?’”

Nor does the technology by itself  stop lawbreakers, but it can help slow and catch them.  Still, that doesn’t mean crime is less of a problem than it once was; crime itself has changed as well, with the type calls officers get often much different – and sometimes, much more difficult – than they were in simpler times. But the advances definitely have helped, although the learning curve can be steep at times.

“A lot has changed, and the technology can take some getting used to, especially for officers like me who are a bit older,” said King. “Overall, though, I think it’s made things different for the better.”

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