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Columns : In My Sights

Cutting Through the Noise

Truly important information often gets lost in today's barrage of high-tech transmissions.

July 21, 2009  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author


Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship

I just got done updating my Facebook page. Before I update my MySpace page I thought I better get this month's "In My Sights" out to the editors before I get one of those nasty little IMs about procrastinating. I'm not procrastinating, I'm communicating. What a day and age, when my Blackberry is vibrating and my computer is "pinging" and just a few days ago the phone on my wall actually rang. Those crazy old landlines still work, God bless them.

The thing is that just because we have an exponential growth in the ability for us to communicate with each other doesn't mean we actually have more things to say to each other. In fact, I find the world is filled with more and more "noise" that makes it difficult to find the actual "signal" that is the information we truly need. I have a satellite television signal that gives me channel upon channel of "noise" and very little actual stuff I want to watch, much less get any real information from.

Honestly, when I look at the cockpit of the modern police vehicle I am dazzled by all the great electronics so many of them have today. I happen to think a lot of this actually causes so many distractions it injures or kills more than a few crime fighters every year...but I am still dazzled.

Not to sound too much like an old geezer, but I remember back when we didn't have MDCs or MDTs or cell phones or smart phones or even portable radios. You got out of your car and you better have gotten as much as you could from your dispatcher, call-taker, or whomever could tell you might be getting into where you were going, since once you stepped out of that vehicle you were in the "wilderness" compared to today's GPS-filled high communication universe.

For us, it doesn't matter where the important "signal" comes from, just that we attend to it. I remember responding to an alarm way up on the north side of my beat on graveyard shift when we were having a rash of smash and grabs and I wanted to get there ASAP. I was just off probation and only slightly cocky, so I decided to go "on scene" before my backups arrived. JW, Sam, and Charlie were busting their butts trying to get there but I suavely advised Barb, our dispatcher, I was going "23" anyway.

"Be advised, 31 is only two minutes away," an icy voice replied. "I am '23' to the Southwest quadrant," I jauntily replied. Sam took the other quad in a few seconds and Charlie and JW arrived and cleared the perimeter in what turned out to be a false alarm.

It was a busy night and everyone cleared quickly and I finished up the paperwork when Barb's voice cut the air: "Three Adam Thirty-Two, check out at a Twenty-0ne." I thought, Funny how a simple tone of voice can contain tons of information in it...not ha-ha funny, but that "oh no" kind of funny.

In those days there was a strange item known as a "pay phone" and you kept the numbers of all the ones in your beat so you could simply pull up to one, tell dispatch the number, and answer the phone when it rang. Which is exactly what I did then, as quickly as possible, to allow Barb to give me a signal. It was a no noise message, very clear...if I ever disregarded her hint about waiting for backup again I would be eligible to sing for the Vienna Boy's Choir without difficulty. Pure signal, no noise.

I sometimes think back to those days of vastly limited communication and wonder if we get lax about sending such important messages because we are so inundated with information today? Barb's simple signal changed my behavior and maybe saved my life. You don't get many more important messages than that, and I hope you all take the time to listen carefully through all the noise to get the right messages. Got to run. My "Twitter" needs updating.

Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' "Street Survival" seminar.

Tags: Cops Online, Communications

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