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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).
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Stay Calm on the Radio and On the Road

Losing control when calling for backup or responding as backup can multiply a tragedy.

May 09, 2007  |  by - Also by this author


How would you react to hearing this impassioned plea over the radio?

One deputy who'd been off training for only a few months heard just this type of highly charged request for assistance. Already in the process of transporting a prisoner when he heard the transmission, the rookie felt that the tone of the broadcast was so emergent that it obligated him to respond code 3 to assist. As he did, he drove 80 mph through a red light and broadsided another vehicle.

This single incident can be divided into two cautionary tales.

First, it illustrates how important it is to consider the implications of our radio transmissions. When we key up the radio and speak, we communicate more than mere words; we communicate our state of mind and give some sense of our predicament. When we allow our emotions to get the better of us, we can find ourselves shouting into the radio, cutting ourselves off, or needlessly tying up the frequency by repeating ourselves while our fellow officers are responding code 3 on possibly divergent paths.

Emotionally charged transmissions not only complicate our primary mission—which is to get help—they can also foster unanticipated situations as when officers over drive in their efforts to get to us. This underscores the need to communicate requests for assistance or backup in an even and clear tone.

By multiple accounts, the deputy who requested assistance was shouting into his portable radio, suggesting a more emergent situation than he was confronting. While more veteran deputies had gotten used to the deputy’s emotional requests, newer personnel had not. Indeed, the rookie deputy thought that his fellow deputy was in dire trouble and decided to roll hard to his location.

This incident shows how important it is for us to recognize how we evaluate the information we receive and how we choose to react to it. In this situation, the rookie’s decision to respond with a prisoner in tow and the manner in which he set about doing so, proved fateful for several parties.

As a result of the collision, both the deputy and his prisoner received major injuries and, for a period of time, there was discussion of the deputy being the first officer in California to be charged for vehicular murder. He ended up plea bargaining down to a misdemeanor and found himself medically retired.

Two primary factors caused this tragedy. But it all comes down to adrenaline.

• The deputy asking for backup let his adrenaline take over on the radio.

• The responding deputy’s adrenaline flow led him to over drive and that caused the accident.

How might the responding deputy have reacted to a more tempered request for assistance?

Officers should give this situation some thought. No doubt, many cops have been on either side or the equation. If not, the odds are very good that they one day will be. Anticipating and planning for this possibility can help.

It is certainly understandable for rookie officers to feel heightened anxiety when encountering new situations. But as officers are increasingly immersed in a variety of field situations, it is expected that they will respond with ever greater degrees of competency and professional calm.

Responding officers also have to realize that they have to arrive at the scene in one piece if they are going to provide backup.

It all comes down to controlling your adrenaline, not letting it control you.

Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

jnc36rcpd @ 5/26/2007 4:32 PM

I'm reminded of a story from the Vietnam War about a Navy aviator whose aircraft was hit over North Vietnam. After transmitting mayday, he continued to shout into the radio about the nature of the damage to his aircraft and his location. When he finally paused for breath, another aviator intoned "Shut up and die like a man". While I don't know if that story is true, I think there is some real value in it. Hysterical babbling on the radio causes confusion and risks lives. I have found the best solution is to take a couple of deep breaths before keying the microphone. Good article, Dean.

LadyHollman @ 6/6/2007 7:03 PM

The rule in policing is "Control". If someone is not threatening your life, do not yell into the radio. If someone is ... Learn to control yourself, control your breathing, and fight the good fight until back up arrives. No one understands what we are saying when we sound like a sqwaking chicken over the air. It causes extreme distress in responding Officers and anyone else listening. It causes other Officers to drive at high speed, all using sirens, none which can hear the others coming. Control is needed here also. Take a deep breath and say your location as you exhale....keep fighting.

Sonny @ 6/9/2007 9:15 PM

I could'nt agree more with Dean. It also holds true for "The Dispatcher" calling your call sign and giving you the call. The manner the call is put on air also determines the sense of urgency, running full code, power down. Speaking from an experiance that would stay with me till the last breath inside me, the manner of handling radio traffic should be done with Calm Control. Know your bearings, use the radio as a radio not a "Cell Phone", broadcast the nature of the incident in short not second by second comentary, and most important of all keep the thumb off the mic key so that others can get the information. This allows smooth transaction of troop deployment to the trooper in despair, and keeps the responding troops from guessing. Remember, shouting in the radio only makes it worse. Last but NOT the Least, have the mind set of, " I am going to win this fight!"
May God protect His Blue Angles, without whom the world would be hell on earth.

jparedes @ 6/15/2007 3:57 PM

While as an Inspector for the Country Sherriff's office in El Tigre, Venezuela, I heard over the radio a call from the Hospital location informing us that there have been shots fired and the officer on duty had been shot in the leg. We could hear the yelling and groans of pain coming on the radio line. As I responded immediately there were at least five more officers that responded too - within 5 minutes the parking lot was full of police cars and officers running in all directions. When everything was settled, we found out that the officer shot himself in the leg while re-holstering his duty weapon. Fortunately, nobody got hurt, but I remember racing the streets (very narrow) at around 60+ MPH, if an innocent pedestrian would have walked in front of me he/she would not have been able to stand a chance to make it alive. After the incident, we trained all the officers to stick to the communications alpha/numerical code that we had - this way it was easy to avoid unnecessary wordings that would confuse the issue. Needless to say, the officer ended up with a medical leave for couple of months and after his return he was assigned to, of all the places, radio duty at the command post.

Yarbrough @ 6/16/2007 6:41 AM

Very good article, and so very true. A major point here is that even "experienced" officers may not have "experience" in all situations, especially stressful encounters. This can be addressed through realistic training that requires decision making, communication, and action as part of the objectives for the evolution. You will fight like you train. If you have checked out properly with dispatch a very short transmission such as "send me a cover unit" should suffice. Save your breath, fight, your backup is en route. Responders...just get there, and then work the assignment. If you're responding from a sector close enough to do any good, you should already have a good idea where the distressed officer is.

gcarrier @ 6/16/2007 9:02 PM

Great story, but what is the focus? Is it about over modulating in the hand set or is it about a young officer driving to beat the devil. Would it matter if a fellow officer was screaming for his life or had the forethought to use a calm steady voice? I would tear the tires off to get to the scene if I knew a buddy needed help. Of course I'm not going to blast through a red light at 80 mph either.

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