Hung up: Budgets keep cell phones from cops


When a shifty character enters a store and acts suspiciously, the staff may call 911. The call goes through dispatch and responding officers hope to witness the shoplifting or at least chase the suspect down the block. The process works well. But it could be even better.

Imagine a different scenario. A beat cop, who only works a certain neighborhood like Uptown, gets a cell phone call from a store and gets there in half the time because the officer is in the neighborhood already.

That is how it was up until a short while ago. Since about September of 2010, Officer Butch Blauert of the Uptown Beat Cop Patrol was connected to the Uptown community with the help of a cell. But due to budget cuts he’s been without a cell and out of the loop. He’s on the radio but since he’s a beat cop he’s at the mercy of the dispatch process. He’s satisfied with dispatch times but wishes he could take advantage of potentially quicker response times provided by cell phone communication.

Asked to provide an example of the benefits, Blauert responds, “Just this morning I could have responded to a car prowler who was checking car doors.” That didn’t happen because by the time the dispatched call went through the guy was gone.

What would it cost to provide a cell phone to one of these officers for one month? According to Tarmen Farrar, a wireless consultant with World of Wireless at 709 West Lake Street, “$39.99 a month, refurbished, new or used phone a with 24 month contract.”

Blauert then describes a much more subtle advantage to the cell phone. It originates out of the philosophy of the beat cop. Beat cops consistently work the same neighborhood so they really get to know it. That can more quickly detect when things are out of the ordinary. The also know the businesses and residents better. The improved relationship usually translates to improved communication. Because people know him better they are more willing to be forthcoming about details on everything from suspect descriptions to contacting him about suspicious activity. This is where the cell phone is advantageous.

“People are much more likely to call me when they know it’s not a 911 call. ‘You know if you’re not doin’ anything you could come down here and check out this character for me’ is a common cell call” Some people don’t want to bother him unless they’re absolutely sure that he has nothing else going on. But when he has his cell, those calls are much more frequent. And that’s when he believes he can do the most good.