While communications technology has been
advancing for a long time, you’re beginning your
career at a time when the speed of that
advancement is mind boggling.  Some of the
advancements are great for law enforcement while
others are just a waste of time and taxpayers’
money.  When it comes to waste, I like the one
about everybody talking to everybody.  During my
career, I never had the need to talk over the radio
with a firefighter or a paramedic.  Think about it this
way.  If everybody could talk to everybody, more
confusion would be created than prevented.  While
there absolutely should be a system and procedure
in place for communication among different
emergency response agencies and units, that
procedure must be more refined than an everybody
to everybody free for all.

It all comes back to radio etiquette and a solid and
efficient communications structure and systems.
It’s a lot of new technology with the same old
story…too many people at the top think that the
more complicated and expensive the technology,
fewer people will be needed to operate and maintain
that technology.  When this philosophy takes hold
in a police department, it breeds a lot of confusion.

In my view, the biggest contributor to good police
radio etiquette is the cell phone.  The cell phone
technology only gets better and cheaper with time.  
You may well join a police department where you’ll
be issued a cell phone as part of your basic
equipment.  Sure…there will be police officers who
abuse the privilege of cell phones with unauthorized
usage, but such abuse can be tracked and
controlled.  The real benefit will be in keeping a lot
of superfluous communication off the radio.

Always remember that your radio is, first and
foremost, a life line.  Safety is, as it should be, the
number one priority for having radio communication
in the first place.  Every other use of the police
radio is simply mere convenience.
When I began my police career in 1971, the police
radio was just beginning to attain some
sophistication.  Only a few years before, Baltimore
foot patrol officers walked their posts (beats)
without the aid of two-way radio communication.  
When an officer made an arrest, he had to walk that
person to the nearest call box to call for the wagon.
(The call box was a cast iron locked box attached to
a utility pole with a telephone inside.)
It’s extremely important for you to always monitor
your radio no matter what you’re doing.  Trust me;
there will be times when the dispatcher will smack
you down for getting on the air at the wrong time.  

Let’s say you’re inside a hospital emergency room,
or some other location, where the structure affects
your radio reception.  You miss the call in the
example I described.  You’ve finished your call, and
you walk outside where you notice that the radio is
clear giving you the opportunity to call back into
service.  Your transmission is met with the
dispatcher’s short and abrupt command to stay off
the air until the officer assist call is cleared.  Now…
even though you did nothing wrong intentionally,
you’re going to feel a little stupid, but that’s just
the way it goes.  Here’s the real kicker.  In a similar
situation, you’re going to see…er, hear…an officer
who will feel the need to go back on the radio to
provide an explanation why he or she interrupted
the imposed silence in the first place.
"...when it comes to police radio
communication, your radio etiquette is the key
factor in maximizing safety and efficiency
considerations…no matter how sophisticated
your communications system may be."
~ Barry M. Baker
While I had the benefit of having a walkie-talkie
when I did foot patrol, I still could not communicate
with the radio cars which were on a different radio
band.  On a really busy night, it could get pretty
difficult to get the attention of the dispatcher who
was busy dispatching for three districts, where the
radio cars all shared one channel, plus any foot
patrolmen assigned to him on the walkie-talkie

Things have improved dramatically over the years;
however, operating a police communications system
can still be a daunting task.  Obviously, the bigger a
police department is, the more difficult it is to
maintain an efficient communications system.  
Following any incident of catastrophic proportions,
such as the attacks of 9-11, you’ll hear the
politicians and media decry the lack of
communication among emergency response
personnel, i.e. police, fire, paramedics, and just
about anyone else who shows up.  While the media
can be forgiven their lack of expertise about
anything, the pandering politicians are the people
ultimately responsible for the level of sophistication
of any communications system(s) for emergency

...your radio etiquette is the key factor

Technologically…just about anything is doable.  
However, when it comes to police radio
communication, your radio etiquette is the key
factor in maximizing safety and efficiency
considerations…no matter how sophisticated your
communications system may be.  Whether you have
a radio with only one channel or twenty, only one
person can talk at one time on any channel.

Keep it short and to the point.  While some police
officers love to adhere to the keep it short
philosophy when it comes to writing reports, they
don’t apply that same standard when it comes to
talking on the radio.  No matter how much training
you receive regarding radio etiquette, they’ll be
some police officers who’ll never come to
understand that nobody’s interested in their
redundant verbal narratives via the radio.

Every police department has a 10 Code for the
purpose of identifying particular circumstances and
activities.  For example, let’s say that 10-32 means
sufficient units are on the scene.  You’re on patrol
when an officer in your sector calls for help.  The
officer’s transmission is stressed, and it’s obvious
that the officer is involved in some kind of physical
struggle.  There’s going to be response by nearby
officers and by officers who are not nearby.  There’s
going to be a lot of radio traffic with the dispatcher
identifying response units.  

You’re the second officer to arrive at the scene
where you observe the original officer, who called
for help, and the first back-up officer affixing
handcuffs to a suspect.  Your first responsibility is
to assess the situation for the need of any further
assistance.  You never know… there might be some
circumstance that would require additional officers
to respond.  In this instance, everything is over,
and the suspect is in custody.

Unless there’s another emergency in progress, the
dispatcher is going to keep the air clear; until, this
emergency is resolved.  The simplest way for you to
end the emergency response of other units is to
key your microphone and state your call number,
the 10 code and location, e.g. “…ten thirty-two
Harford and Broadway.”  The dispatcher will
acknowledge and repeat the 10-32 to make certain
all responding units are aware that the emergency is

I chose the 10-32, because any emergency
response by police officers is serious.  While officers
will continue to respond, particularly when another
officer calls for help, their response won’t continue
at a break-neck pace.

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