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

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
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 channels.

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 resolved.

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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