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Police officers can’t afford to be distracted on the job. Even routine law enforcement duties can turn into emergency situations with little notice, and situational awareness can keep an officer alive in a dangerous situation.

Cell phones, laptops and other technology used in law enforcement can easily pull an officer’s attention away from the situation at hand. However, technology doesn’t have to be a distraction. When used correctly, it can give officers the information they need to assess their surroundings and make good decisions. Effective policies, training, and practices can turn technology into a helpful tool to enhance police situational awareness. Here are a few tips to make sure officers are using technology effectively:

1. Implement Easy-to-Use Technology

Technology can give officers access to important information about the place to which they are dispatched, the person they stop or the car they pull over. This context can make them more mindful of potential dangers and help them choose the correct course of action. However, flooding an officer with too much information can overwhelm and distract them. An effective phone app, document management system or computer program provides officers with simple ways to find the information they need, communicate with other emergency personnel in the area and share photos, videos and other documents without losing awareness of their surroundings.

2. Establish Effective Boundaries and Policies for Technology

Studies have shown that attempting to multitask reduces efficiency and performance and slows reaction time. Many officers are accustomed to using several different pieces of technology at once, so police departments must create and enforce policies to keep officers from getting distracted by phones, computers and other equipment. Departments should establish policies about when officers should and should not use technology while on duty. Departments can even implement measures to encourage accountability, such as having an aide monitor technology and pass along essential information, or using programs that shut down in-car computers when the vehicle reaches 15 miles per hour.

3. Train Extensively and Regularly

Ultimately, situational awareness is a mindset more than a skill, but that mindset can be taught by training officers to use the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) or Cooper’s color code to assess their own situational awareness on the job. Along with regular combat drills that stress situational awareness, departments should ensure that training includes instruction on how to effectively use every piece of technology in a patrol car and that officers know what to do if their computer crashes or they lose touch with command.

For law enforcement officers, being mindful of their surroundings can be a matter of life or death. When the proper policies and procedures are in place, technology can help officers get the information they need to assess a situation properly, decide on the best course of action and practice effective situational awareness.

Click here to see how Monroe County Sheriff’s Office implemented PowerDMS to focus on scenario-based training.