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Departments : The Winning Edge

How To Handle Audio Exclusion

To realistically train for what you face on the street, turn up the noise and block your ears.

February 07, 2011  |  by Tom Wetzel

Practice handcuffing and restraint techniques, which include training with partners. An officer who can't hear well may require direction and assistance from another officer. Use-of-force options-such as control batons, OC spray, and the TASER-acclimate officers to using them with reduced hearing.

Portable radio transmissions by an injured officer may summon backup or medical help, direct the apprehension of a perpetrator, or save a life. Practicing to speak into a portable radio in a controlled manner while not hearing a response is important. When you practice transmissions where you advise listening units or dispatch of valuable information, include the fact that you cannot hear. By providing transmissions with adequate pauses, you can pace your transmission while allowing other units to communicate among themselves during pauses.

All of these exercises should also be practiced using loud music that can cause confusion or limited communications. This will help simulate conditions where you may be able to hear, but not effectively communicate. It is here where the use of hand signals could be beneficial.

Also, crowd control and riots can have conditions where officers may have trouble hearing each other. Working in groups, communicating through hand signals, and understanding your responsibilities may help make up for other reduced or ineffective communications, such as portable radio transmissions.

Maintaining Composure

Negotiating a room and reacting to threats when you can't hear well or at all can be challenging. If not prepared, you may become confused or panic and not perform as well as you could. Conducting different scenarios where officers enter a room and address threats can be useful.

Officers will have to use their other senses, especially their sight. Rapid and ongoing visual scans can help compensate for hearing loss. Where you would normally hear rumbling, shuffling, or dislodged objects from a suspect, you will have to rely on observation, touch senses, or assistance from a fellow officer. Based on his condition, you may opt for a tactical retreat, even if it results in a suspect getting away.

Exposing officers to situational training exercises where they have to make decisions based on their current abilities develops confidence and a better understanding of what to expect. This prior exposure may help you remain calm and think your way out of a situation where you must react.


Like any situation where an officer has an injury, he or she can benefit from the help of other officers when hearing loss occurs during an operation.

So if you can't hear a sound, convey this information to another officer. This could involve simply pointing to your ears and shaking your head.

The other officer can then take the lead and become your "ears." Part of the training should involve the injured officer moving alongside but slightly behind the officer so that the lead officer has him in his peripheral as much as possible as they work together. The injured officer may also opt to use his support hand to hold onto the uniform of the lead officer. If the lead can't see him, he knows where he is based on the grab of the injured officer.

If the lead hears someone, he can direct his attention in that area, allowing the injured officer to follow his direction. He can also move to get the injured officer to safety. This tandem movement should be practiced as normal coordination could be compromised for the injured officer who must try to move in step as much as possible with the lead officer.

As the two officers become comfortable with this type of movement, they should practice firing their weapons in this type of arrangement. This can be done from stationary positions together or while moving as a team. Dry firing or the use of marking rounds such as Simunition is strongly encouraged for safety reasons.

Teamwork is important when an officer is injured. Working together through different training exercises that include the application of hand signals can be beneficial to the officers and develop esprit de corps.

Be Prepared

Even if this type of training is short and infrequent, it can benefit you if you experience some type of hearing loss during a tour of duty. Without hearing a word, you may still be able to communicate effectively, maintain a clear mind, and avoid panic.

By being prepared for this type of condition, you can complete your objectives which may include self-defense and control measures. Training for a hearing loss can be a valuable component of an agency's training objectives.

Tom Wetzel is a northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant, SWAT officer, trainer, and certified law enforcement executive.

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