Every now and then I’ll be talking with someone and suddenly have to apologise, say ‘I’m being called on my radio’ and then wonder off engaged in a mysteriously one-sided conversation with the control room. Our radios are absolutely essential to our job and we’d not only be lost without them but also potentially in considerable danger.
Each and every officer has a radio assigned to them and needs to have it with them whenever they’re out on patrol. It is the means by which we not only communicate with the controllers at Walsall Police Station but also with other officers, via the system known as ‘point to point’ which allows us to contact our colleagues directly.
The principle role of the radio operators, or ‘rads’ as we know them, is to co-ordinate us unruly officers, to get us to where we need to be and to make sure that we have the information we need to do our jobs. They relay information from 999 calls to us and advise us what we’re likely to encounter when we arrive at an incident.
The radio network is secured and encrypted to prevent unwanted ears tuning in on our activities and also to help safeguard personal information that is relayed when we’re requesting Police National Computer checks and the like.
The network is ‘open’ meaning that every officer can hear transmissions to and from the control room and as such, it is important that we keep our communications as brief and to the point as possible. To this end we have a system of ‘status codes’ that are designed to reduce the amount of time we need on the airwaves to pass information. Rather than telling the control room that we are on patrol and available to be deployed, for example, we simply let them know that we are ‘code two’ and they have all the information they need.
Building on this, we have in place a variety of call signs and common phrases which we use to identify each other and help save time. Each car, for example, is referenced on the radio by an individual code, as are officers of different ranks and from different departments.
That the network is encrypted is important, although sometimes transmissions will be populated by so many obscure codes and police speak that anyone from outside the job listening in would probably struggle to understand what we’re going on about. I sometimes struggle myself!
Our radios have the capability to switch between a variety of different channels meaning that not only can we talk with other control rooms across the West Midlands, we can also select control rooms from different forces too. This is particularly useful, and important, when we’re conducting enquiries across the border is Staffordshire and want to let their control room know we’re visiting.
Being a common system used across the emergency services, we can also use our radios to co-ordinate our response to major incidents with members of the fire and ambulance services.
As an important safety feature, each terminal has an orange ‘panic button’ which instantly clears all other radio traffic and alerts the control room that an officer is in need of assistance. The alarm triggered has a haunting tone to it and cues every other officer to instantly fall silent, turn up their own radio and wait for the officer’s location to be broadcast so that they can race to their help.
I don’t think I’m alone in finding having the radio chattering away in my ear whilst I’m trying to talk to someone quite a distraction. Distractions aside, my radio terminal is easily the most important piece of kit that I carry and is invaluable for getting my job done.
Whilst I am sometimes tempted to send the terminal tumbling through the air when the talking in my ear piece is annoying me, I’d never throw it too far!