A few weeks ago, I was rewriting the manuscript for my first book and came upon a comment from my editor, questioning if my homicide detective character carrying a flip-style cell phone, instead of a high-tech iPhone, was dated. Since it’s been nearly ten years since I carried a badge and gun for a living, I reached out to my old buddies at Oakland Police Department.
When I came on the department in the early 80s, cell phones were a rarity. The mobile ones were big and expensive. I remember being an officer on a critical incident and the incident captain had this mobile phone the size and weight of a brick. Later, the patrol command and district sergeants had car phones installed in their cars, but that was back in the day when a phone antenna on one’s car was a status symbol.
In the early 90s, the homicide unit where I was assigned at the time, joined the elite people in the department and got phones installed in our two stand-by cars, the cars used by the two on-call investigators. However, we still carried pagers, so unless we were the on-call team, we had to hit a pay phone whenever we got a page. Oh yeah, I got my first department pager back in the mid-eighties when I worked Vice Narcotics. That was when only doctors and drug dealers carried pagers, and when I was working undercover vice, I sure didn’t look like a doctor.
I think it was around the end of my time in homicide (the mid-nineties) when every investigator was issued his very own cell phone. When I made lieutenant and was assigned to patrol, I got a Nextel/Motorola model, one that was advertised as being tough enough for construction workers. By the time I left the department, all command officers, patrol sergeants and investigators had cell phones. They were nothing fancy—they made and received phone calls.
Today, I’m on my second iPhone and would be lost without the ability to call, text, email, and access the internet anywhere and anytime. However, my iPhone would last about a week in the rough and tumble life of a street cop in Oakland. My OPD friends told me the department currently issues Verizon’s Casio G’zOne Commando. It’s a rugged MIL SPEC phone, described by one cop as a “not so smart smartphone.” When I was on the department, most people didn’t have their own cell phones, and we were allowed to use our department phones for personal business as long as we didn’t go over the allotted minutes, so I carried my work phone 24/7 and was always available for emergencies.
Today, nearly all cops have a personal cell phone, and they don’t use their issued phone for personal use since the department (read I.A.D.) can view the phone logs of the department phones whenever they want. That’s too bad, because I think that if I were a working cop today, I wouldn’t carry two phones off-duty, and a call to my work phone would have to wait until I next came on duty.