When a law enforcement officer responds to a home or business for a disturbance or emergency call for help, the dispatcher will often relay to the responding officer whether the address has a premise history. The responding officer will gain an understanding of the previous calls from that location. This gives an officer some insight into possible response tactics and what risks might present themselves.
Some of our officers patrolling California roads are not routinely offered that same type of possible safety net when pulling over a driver. Officers are sometimes prohibited by department policy from seeking a driver’s criminal history unless the subject has been taken into custody.
This practice has come into question following the shooting death of an officer who was killed by a driver who was pulled over for driving illegally in a carpool-only lane. Due to additional violations, the officer was impounding the driver’s car. While the officer was preparing the paperwork, the driver retrieved items from his vehicle, including a rifle capable of firing 120 rounds. He fired that weapon at the officer, killing him.
Here’s what the officer didn’t know about the man he pulled over. He had an extensive and violent criminal history and had served time in prison. Armed with that knowledge, I suspect the officer would have been on heightened alert and not allowed the subject to return to his vehicle unattended while the officer filled out routine paperwork for the tow company.
The question arises, why are officers not informed that they are dealing with these super bad people? Why are they discouraged or prohibited from checking on a subject’s criminal history, unless the subject is in custody? The work requires the assistance of a dispatcher and can take several minutes. Several minutes well spent, but also several minutes too long. There’s also the filing of paperwork after a criminal history check is completed. Officers have access to their MDTs but typing in information to receive someone’s criminal history requires the officer to remove his eyes from the subject for many minutes. Law enforcement must look at improving the system – making criminal histories readily accessible to officers and speeding up the process. In our age of high technology, we must update the archaic system now in place. The current system is due for an upgrade and the loss of this officer’s life is proof. We must do everything we can, so officers know who they are coming into contact with.