Effective Radio Communications: The Officer’s Lifeline on the Field

In previous articles I have discussed the importance of mobility and the function of weapons in the security field, which were the ‘Shoot and Move’ aspects of the business. Here we talk about communications –the importance of effective radio communications in public safety and security. Communications in public safety and security work is the officer’s lifeline on the field. Knowing how to properly deploy and use a communication system can determine how effective one’s security system works.

In this day of high mobility and speed of action, it is very important and key to achieve effective communication. The quicker one gets to receive and send clear information of an incident, the more effective is the disposition of the incident. As command and control (C2) functions are performed through an arrangement of personnel, equipment, communications, facilities, and procedures employed by a leader in planning, directing, coordinating, and controlling forces and operations to accomplish a mission, the proper use of communications ensures its effectiveness as a lifeline and as an efficient means of delivery of command and control.

As in everything in life, good things start with good fundamentals, such as well-chosen equipment and proper corresponding training. For the choice of personal equipment, I would choose a portable radio that is light, waterproof, and with multichannel capability. Its capacity or range should cover at least your immediate working area. An important consideration is a remote microphone and if working in highly built up areas, like malls and streets where noise is a consideration or eavesdropping by bystanders may happen, an ear piece is good additional attachment.

Technology allows these radios to operate on a different channel each time they are activated, without the occurrence of eavesdropping. There are radios that indicate or alarm, if the user is in horizontal position. They have panic buttons, video capability, etc.

Most importantly, we want to communicate to one location and use radio much like a ‘data entry’ tool. Communications should all go to a command center, where all traffic is documented. Radio traffic between officers is cleared prior through the command center. The idea is to have a centralized communication network.

The procedure will be for every officer in the field to verbalize via radio to the command center every activity he engages in. In the same manner, incidents requiring officer response are dispatched to the appropriate officer from the command center. Again, all radio traffic goes to and from the command center where incident tracking is done. The officer in the field communicates to the command center his activity, prior to engaging in it. For example, the officer sees a suspicious person or a suspicious package, the officer radios the command center advising of his intended activity, derived from his observations. The command center parrots this message to confirm receipt and puts this down on record. These are very important procedures for officer survival and tactical efficiency.

Officers are trained to listen to radio traffic and visualize the incident, whether that officer engaging in an activity is in his sector or an adjoint sector—should he provide cover, should he execute a perimeter, therefore displaying some initiative. Unless the initial officer asked for ‘priority traffic only’ of the radio, the officer intending to respond to the incident will also advise the command center. Everyone should be monitoring the radio to ensure steady coordination without having to be directed constantly.

The reason for giving your call sign, your location, and your activity before engaging in an activity is to ensure that in the event the activity deteriorates into a bad situation we already have units en route to assist. This cuts down on response times and incident resolution. We want to manage incidents from becoming a crisis.

Using radio to communicate to one central point also integrates all our information, instead of being spread out in different ‘log books’ gathering dust. By communicating activities actively, a more effective incident management is possible.

There is more to this topic in training and method. Forms and formats exist for replication. Below is a bulleted training material for radio communications, so that this article doesn’t get too boring.

Familiarization with field radios:

  1. Location of on/off switch
  2. Volume control
  3. Squelch
  4. Channel selector
  5. Microphone
  6. Transmit button
  7. Depress firmly
  8. Pause before/after speaking
  9. Release
  10. Transmitter indicator light
  11. Hand-held radios
  12. Antenna/position
  13. Battery

Radio Procedures and Techniques:

  • ABC’s of Radio Demeanor
    1. Accuracy is necessary in order to obtain the desired information.
    2. Brevity is necessary to conserve airtime and reduce the volume of information handled by the dispatcher.
    3. Courtesy is necessary for efficient, rapid service; spell out names which are unusual or have difficult spelling.
    4. Think about what you are going to say prior to transmitting
  • Waiting until the air is clear before pressing the transmit button
    1. Limit transmission length.
    2. Monitor frequency before transmitting.
    3. Key the mike and wait one or two seconds prior to transmitting.
  • Pressing the transmit button firmly and speaking calmly and clearly into the microphone to ensure even modulation
    1. Speak slowly.
    2. Emotionless voice
    3. Normal speaking voice
    4. Unless background noise dictates otherwise
    5. Use normal voice inflection and enunciate clearly.
  • Emergency traffic defined
    1. Officer-involved shootings
    2. Officer needs help
    3. In-progress felonies
    4. Pursuits/failure to yield
    5. Agency standard operating procedures as applicable
  • Routine/Non-Emergency
    1. Status change
    2. APB’s not related to the incident
    3. Non-emergency calls for service
  • Purpose of call signs, their assignments, and beat locations
    1. Know who you are talking/listening to
    2. Know unit functions
    3. Watch/Patrol
    4. Special assignments
    5. Rank

Communicate then act.

As always, stay safe, stay sharp, survive!