Officers who work security at restaurants will tell you they have seen people come in for dinner and observe zero communication at dinner tables, often incommucado with their phone, other times not. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Gold Coast restaurant, Denny’s, or sadly, the home dinner table of some reading this. Cell phones routinely deprive loved ones and friends from the other’s attention. Nobody is talking; devices are taking over our lives and the creep has entered law enforcement.
Today’s officer is overloaded with distractions: radios, a computer, lights and siren controls, license plate scanners, etc., and those are work-related devices. There’s something else, more insidious, contributing to officer distraction … personal cell phones. At roll calls, half the room is on phones. I’ve seen officers, in the station, on an arrest; they are on their phone, unrelated to their duties. This is a safety issue as well as increasing the risk of paperwork and notification mistakes. Those reading this know who are the culprits regarding this. Is it you? Some officers are so engaged, they carry their phone chargers them. I wonder, what did officers do before the advent of cell phones? They had to talk to each other in the car, yikes!
I suspect this is a problem everywhere. Do you work with someone addicted to checking text messages and emails and social media while they’re shopping online? How safe do you feel? Doesn’t this behavior worry you? Tell them to “Put the phone down!” Your partner should have your back and looking down at a cell phone is a distraction. This distraction means slower response time in the event of something happening.
If you are addicted to your phone, think about the impact it has on those around you as well as you. That phone call can wait. Let it go to voicemail. Resist the urge to constantly check text messages or email. It’s not healthy to constantly be on the phone while at work, and especially when your office is a squad car.
Nicholas Carr explains in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, “The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention” and “We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.”
Officers do not need more distractions. What officers do not realize is that they are addicted to their phones. Addiction is the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it interferes with everyday life. Does a phone interfere with your ability to do the job? Some officers will continue talking on their cell phone during a traffic stop. I’ve seen it. Please put the phone down.
According to a recent survey, the average worker spends up to six hours a day on email. That doesn’t count time online spent shopping, searching or keeping up with social media. The brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification creates something called a “compulsion loop.” Like lab rats and drug addicts, we seek more and more to get the same effect.
Don’t officers get enough stimulation at work? Too much stimulation creates cognitive overload. It’s as if our brains are a full cup of water; anything more added starts to spill out. Spend spending too much time on phones thins attention span.
We all know an officer who is on his phone too much. It’s unsafe and frustrating to the partner you are assigned to protect. I once offered to buy a guy on my team lunch if he put his cell phone away the entire shift. I didn’t buy lunch; the urge to answer the phone was too much.
I understand cell phones are necessary. Find a reasonable balance. And I challenge you to go a day without using it. Set rules with your family. Challenge yourself to fight the urge to answer every phone call, email, and text message when you hear the tones, dings and rings. Put the phone away and see what happens.
Brian Mc Vey, MAP, served the Chicago Police Department for more than 10 years. He has a master’s degree in police psychology from Alder University and is an adjunct professor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.