Almost 70 percent of police departments install GPS tracking devices in their vehicles, according to a recent survey by the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum. There is ample reason for it, including the safety of the officers themselves. With GPS, for example, dispatchers are better able to locate and summon aid for an incapacitated officer. But the overwhelming advantage to public safety would come with the ability of dispatchers to identify the police responders closest to a crime scene, rather than depending on officers’ radio responses.
There is no legitimate reason for opposition to this routine fleet management tool, which is the one significant reform included in the labor arbitrator’s award of a Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association contract that includes 25.4 percent raises over six years. That contract is still awaiting action by the Boston City Council. While the patrolmen overall support the award, some officers express fear that the tracking devices will strip them of the discretion needed to perform their jobs. It’s certainly true that GPS would provide police supervisors with an effective management tool to ensure that officers are patrolling within their assigned sectors. But that’s a positive outcome, too, as long as the supervisors understand that the nature of the work often requires flexibility. Given that most of them were once patrolmen themselves, there should be little worry of supervisors keeping officers on a too-short leash.