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You can't out-pedal the long legs of the law: backup is a text-message away.

Like many other metropolitan areas around the country, downtown Columbus has some of its law enforcement provided by officers using various modes of transportation. Of course every modern police force has its share of the usual gasoline-powered cruisers and motorcycles meant to provide rapid mobility, wagons for moving detainees, and trucks used for moving other vehicles. To these, the Columbus Division of Police has added methods of transport optimized for other criteria: horses and bicycles.

While walking down the street in downtown Columbus recently, I rounded the corner of a building to find a female police officer sitting stationary atop a bicycle. She looked up at me and we exchanged friendly smiles before she returned her focus to the mobile device in her hand. Given the number of buttons that she was pressing, she was either sending a text message or dialing the number for a telephone in a remote outpost on the far end of the Andromeda galaxy. Every bit of the uniform comes in a color known as “SWAT black.” An armed person in such a uniform might not only have the tactical advantage of being difficult to see in dim lighting but a psychological advantage in simply looking intimidating.

It's a fine balance that law-enforcement officials need to carry today: presentation of a credible threat to criminal elements without alienating the populace that they seek “to serve and protect.” My suspicion is that a good deal of thought goes into the design of uniforms to address the tactical needs of the officer as well as the various strategic needs of the officer's particular unit and the broader agency represented.

While I gave consideration to these random thoughts, I observed something that appeared not to be part of the uniform. The officer did not carry a mysterious mobile communications device like the “virgil” of the Net Force series of books. Nor was it a bulky black metal mechanism that one might be inclined to associate with officers in black uniforms. Nor was it even like the sleek Blackberry devices favored by corporate and professional types addicted to their email. It was, in fact, the sort of product that says style-conscious consumer: a Motorola RAZR. I had no choice but to note its color: bright pink. Suddenly the officer that appeared to be a member of a possibly-elite unit of a coordinated force was just another woman taking a moment out of her work downtown to send a message.

Perhaps this miraculous transformation would not have taken place by virtue of the designer phone itself. A black RAZR could well have fit in with the overall look intended by the designers of the uniform. Although not carrying the same impact as, say, a pink sidearm, the pink phone seemed just a bit too much to maintain the image. Or maybe, I thought, it was just me.

While walking back to my office ten minutes later or so, I saw the officer again, on the sidewalk at a corner. She stood stationary with her black mountain bike, one foot on a pedal in the forward-up position, the other flat on the ground, waiting for the signal in the crosswalk to change from the icon of a red hand to the white silhouette of a pedestrian in motion. While she waited in the gentle drizzle, a businessman in a long raincoat walked by her, portfolio held above his head. She watched him walk into the street, crossing against the signal. Apparently he wasn't intimidated into minding the law. Apparently she wasn't sufficiently annoyed to issue the ticket that might have been the foundation for some additional incentive.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2007-04-25 01:27 PM
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