With threats facing the modern police officer, being able to clearly communicate with fellow officers is vital no matter the situation or level of distraction and background noise. The capability to do so discreetly at times is just as important.
“The important thing is that when you are engaged in law enforcement activities, it is absolutely critical that everyone work as a team and a huge part of that is their tactical communications. In fact, that's the major part of it,” says Mike Griffith, sales manager for OTTO Communications.
OTTO Communications designs and manufactures communications accessories, specializing in mission-critical equipment for the two-way radio market. The company has been involved with radio communications for decades and for many years OTTO has been behind the scenes as an OEM for major brands that people recognize, Griffith says.
The fact is when you get in an environment where things are happening fast and there might be a lot of noise — flashbangs going off, gunshots, an explosive breach, or something like that which can set off loud alarms, and all kinds of things — clear communications become more important Griffith points out. Communication devices and earpieces should increase clear communication but also not hinder an officer’s ability to keep tabs on what is happening around him.
“When you are on scene, it's very important to be able to continue to hear what’s around you, that situational awareness, and assess threats,” Griffith says.
But your comms solution may at times need to also aid in providing discretion.
“The other aspect of this is that let's say you've assigned an officer with his radio; he's got his speaker microphone that he wears on his chest or something like that. You don't necessarily want people on the other side of that door to hear that radio, you want some discretion in where that audio path is going so that you're not tipping your hand that there's a horde of police outside because there's a bunch of speaker mics blaring,” explains Griffith.
“Whether you are ready to bust down a door or just doing a traffic stop, there can always be a need for discretion. If you're on scene at a drowning, or something like that, you don't necessarily want the crowd standing around to hear that they found a body. Do you want that to be quiet in someone's ear when they need to know it, and not blasting all over the neighborhood?” he adds as an example.
Griffith says it becomes very important to have the right audio for the right job. But he says it is also important to realize that there are gradual steps that you can take both in the intensity of these communications devices and also how expensive they are.
He says good tactical comms are really within the reach of any department and it just depends on how in depth they want to go. An agency might choose a form of covert communications with a barely visible earpiece or maybe a comms kit that works well paired with the hearing protection for a SWAT team.
With so many options for tactical comms, how can you best approach providing exactly the solution your department needs? Griffith provides a few simple things you should think about when you buy tactical communications.
Those things are:
1. Consider the Mission
Who will be using the comms, and for what jobs? Will they be worn for hours every day, or on occasion as needed? For example, a full-time SRT doing frequent explosive breaching will have very different needs from a patrol officer's go bag for active shooter response.
2. Over-the-Ear or In-the-Ear?
Teams have so many choices today, including whether to wear an ear plug-based system or an ear cup system. There are advantages to both.
Often mounting a headset on helmets is an afterthought, and the means of integrating with a helmet can make or break effective deployment of a new comms system. It's a good idea to ask those questions up front and find out if a comms system is flexible enough to work with and without a helmet.
This sounds obvious, but in addition to durability, how do the comms sound? All situational awareness is not created equal. Can the users tell which direction a potential threat is coming from?
5. Know the Product
Get to know the product before you buy. Do research and find a unit to test. You can ask your supplier about getting a unit for a trial and evaluation period.