The Athens Police Department was typing up police reports on a typewriter as recently as 1990 and didn’t have Internet access until the turn of the millennium.
Now, there’s so much equipment in a police cruiser that the department must install extra batteries in the trunk, said Tom Pyle, chief of the Athens Police Department.
“When I got in my first police cruiser, there were two (light) switches and three radio units,” Pyle said. “Now you get in the car and there’s a computerized control panel, a mobile radio that has 116 channels, a cell phone modem, a wireless network router, a car computer and numerous LED lights all designed to attract someone’s attention from one angle or another.
“You name it — it’s in the car.”
While acquiring new technology makes law enforcement more efficient, it also opens up different pathways for crime. So it’s especially important for local police departments to keep up with the latest trends — a difficult task on a tight budget.
In recent years, more criminals have started utilizing technology and police, in order to keep up, sometimes purchasing upgraded equipment is necessary Pyle said.
However, APD competes with other agencies throughout the city for cash. If the department doesn’t have enough money in its budget, it turns to the Athens City Council, which decides if the purchase is a main priority for the city.
“The city hasn’t quite figured out how to budget for that kind of technology on a more-than-minimum response,” Pyle said. “They understand we need to keep up with it, but the money is so tight that it’s not like we can have the best of everything.”
The Athens County Sheriff’s Office is another department that has figured out ways to embrace new technology. The Sherriff’s Office recently purchased 18 iPads to install in its cruisers, totaling about $14,500, said Pat Kelly, sheriff of the Athens County Sheriff’s Office.
The majority of the money used to pay for similar technology is generated through police training courses Kelly holds.
“Grants and state funding for counties are being cut, so we have to figure out different ways of getting these things,” Kelly said. “The things we want become secondary to the things we (need).”
Still, the Sheriff’s Office is one of few agencies in the country to utilize iPads, Kelly said.
“It’s cutting-edge,” Kelly said. “Offices are calling us and wanting to know, ‘what are you guys doing down there?’”
Another factor to consider when acquiring new equipment is whether it has the potential to benefit other agencies in the area, said Andrew Powers, police chief of the Ohio University Police Department.
He said the department is more likely to receive federal grant money if the technology could also be invested outside of OU.
“As technology becomes available you evaluate it, and if it has value, you incorporate it,” Pyle said. “As the world around us starts embracing technology, we have to stay abreast, or we’re not going to be able to investigate.”