We've all been in this situation. You are driving along on patrol when suddenly the radio comes alive. A fellow officer is asking for immediate help. Maybe it's a foot pursuit, or maybe it's a violent crime in progress. Either way, that officer has made it very clear that he or she needs help, and fast.
What's our first reaction as responding officers? It's to grab that radio and answer up to help the officer in need. We all do it, with the best of intentions. However, that little act multiplied by the number of officers responding can create a huge problem for the very officer you are trying to protect.
Let's face it, whenever a call like that comes over the airwaves, every officer within earshot will be speeding that way, lights and siren blaring. Everybody will be picking up their radios and announcing their intentions and where they're coming from. Although we all want to help, this little subconscious practice can actually hurt the officer calling for help. If there's a foot chase going on, the officer needs the radio clear to continue to update his position and safety information. If he's witnessing a violent crime or emergency, he'll need the radio to keep incoming units informed of the latest information and of the safest way to get there. It's pretty hard to do this when everyone is "stepping on him" on the radio.
Of course, letting dispatch know you are responding is important, but when this kind of call hits the air, dispatchers are even busier than the responding cover units. They're trying to keep tabs on the entire situation, and they aren't going to be giving out other calls anytime soon. Adding a dozen officers to the air announcing their response locations will just make it harder and take the dispatcher's time and attention away from the more important task of keeping track of the details of the priority call.
So, what's the best way to help in this scenario? The solution is simple, stay off the air and just respond. Face it, your entire department knows that every officer within a few miles is heading that way. Make it easy on everyone and just get there. Once you're close enough to make a difference, get on the radio and tell them you're there. That way, dispatch and the original officer can use you as an asset in the situation, instead of fighting for airtime over all the unnecessary radio traffic.
Too much radio traffic is also an officer safety issue in these situations. The officer who's calling for help needs the radio to his or herself. Let them have the chance to update the situation and have free reign of the air. It's their situation, ands they need to have full use of the communication equipment that can save their lives. Give them the courtesy of having that freedom.
So, the next time that radio buzzes with an officer asking for help, resist the urge to pick it up and answer. Just head that way and get there. Then, once you're close enough to help, let them know you're there. That way, you'll be able to help make a difference in the call, instead of being a detriment to it.