How many of us have been stuck in our tracks with no clue about which way to go? Where would we be without having someone to give us some kind of direction? Giving and taking direction are arguably two of the most important aspects of our job.
It is certainly imperative that we get to where we are needed as quickly as possible. Even if we’re not cartographers, don't possess compasses, and can't navigate by the stars, most of us have been trained in how to read to our jurisdictional maps.
But eyesight and topographical icons can be tricky things, and sooner or later everyone loses their bearings. My partner and I worked on a cardiac patient for 15 minutes while awaiting Rescue, who theoretically had only a four minute roll. Precious minutes ticked by as Rescue realized that the section of the street they were on was not connected to the section of the street we were on.
Those who do get lost can be found blaming everyone and everything from dispatchers to their maps for their navigational incompetence. And there might be some truth to their assertions. For how often have we heard fellow personnel monitoring radio traffic lamenting that the guy tying up the working frequency is lost? Instead of sitting idly by and commiserating the fact, they should get on the air and give the poor SOB some directions. The ass-chewing can always come later.
So when it comes to communicating with field personnel, the Feds said it first: Get rid of the police speak…the jargon…the radio code stuff. As a result, more and more agencies are moving toward speaking plain English over the radio. Sure, there are some police codes that should be retained such as “possible ambush" and “are you out of earshot of your detainee?” But good riddance to the rest of them.
Getting and giving directions effectively sometimes comes down to painting a verbal picture. And quite frankly, the standard “two blocks down and make a right” that we give wayward tourists ain’t gonna cut it in-house.
In Southern California, we have it easy when it comes to getting a geographical bearing. All we have to do is ask: Is it toward the mountains (East) or the beach (West)? Where the sun comes up, or goes down? Unfortunately, some people—including cops—have difficulty with these questions, especially at night.
If your informants don’t know where they’re at, ask them to read the nearest sign, even if it’s "Three year unlimited warranty!" Maybe it’ll ring a bell for you. Ask them if they have OnStar or some other manner of GPS tracking. If they’re ambulatory or can drive, get them to go somewhere that is recognizable to station personnel. With most calls, it isn’t that imperative that the officers respond right to where the problem is; oftentimes, it’s preferable not to.
There are also times when the information provided is too simplistic. While descending on a suspect who was hellbent on taking out his girlfriend and her family with an AK-47, we were advised that the suspect was "on the right side of the girlfriend’s house." Without a "You Are Here" marker painted on the street, we couldn't tell if it was the right side when facing the house or the right side when looking out of it. In these cases, it is important that field personnel ask appropriate clarifying questions.
And what can you do if you are four blocks into a foot pursuit and find yourself lost? You could run the license plate of a parked car in hopes that the car is registered to the same address. Or you can ask the desk to look up the address of the movie theater you see a block away to the east.
Once you are on scene and have to coordinate assistance, you want them there as soon as possible. Whether you use radios or cell phones, telling them to make the third right can be tricky when parallel streets are intermingled with paved and unpaved roads or alleys. Be specific. Are they to make a right turn on the third street east of the intersection, the third access road, or the third right just past the alley?
Avoid putting people in possible crossfire situations. If you’ve got people detained at gunpoint with barrels pointing due east, you will probably want units to approach from the west.
Finally, when it comes to giving directions, follow this one: Go simple, young officer.