We all have those little quirks. Those things that identify us to others almost immediately. Years ago in our little Donut County, nearly every major department was on their own radio channel and was dispatched by communications centers that were directly affiliated with that agency. Then along came a “wise” man who decided that he could fix things that weren’t broken and roll himself into a pretty sweet paying gig in the process by pitching a communications center merger. Against the wishes of nearly every agency involved this merger took place-after being driven by the hose dragging, FEMA-loving, evidence eradication units we all know and love as firemen.
There were definitely bumps along the road to where we are today, and depending on the shift that is working in the communications center, those bumps still exist. The most annoying, yet sometimes entertaining part of this merger is that all of the law enforcement agencies in the county now operate on one radio frequency. In theory this was done so that everyone knew what was happening everywhere else in the county in order to get the closest officer to a call in as quick a manner as possible. This theory was developed by firemen who use mutual aid all of the time. Meanwhile, I’ve witnessed heated arguments between police officers about the starting point of a motor vehicle crash to determine which agency has is responsible for the report.
There are plenty of times that the radio continues to go non-stop because of this shared frequency. Sometimes it is difficult to get free air time to be able to transmit. I even had an entire vehicle pursuit begin and end before I was able to communicate to anyone because of a “yammer-fest” between an officer and dispatcher over the air. That gave me a real warm and fuzzy feeling when the driver stepped out of the vehicle resembling a refrigerator with an attitude and no one else knew what was happening.
Although most of our jurisdictions are within pretty close proximity, I really don’t know much about the officers that patrol the streets nearby. Except for the ones who have been around for quite a while, I couldn’t pick them out of a photo lineup for the most part. After a little while though, I do recognize their voices and radio numbers. Like any other radio personality, you begin to picture what they look like and to develop some form of familiarity with the way they roll on the air.
A while back, another Donut County agency had a reserve officer who had the most silky smooth Barry White-esque delivery with a slight hint of a southern drawl as he keyed up the microphone. Like a lot of new reserve officers, most of what he said on the radio was not in the same rhythm as people who earn a paycheck in this line of work. I soon began to develop a mental picture of him, complete with a large hat topped by a feather, flower in his ink pen pocket, and shag carpeted floor mats as he was pimping while patrolling the streets of suburbia looking to add to his harem of bitches. Alas, he’s not there any more, so I will likely never get to see this guy in real life.
At another agency, there was an officer with such a hillbilly accent on the radio that I expected to hear banjo music softly playing over the sound of a NASCAR broadcast each time he keyed up the microphone hanging eloquently from his Key brand bib overalls with a toothpick hanging in the corner of his mouth on top of a wad of chewing tobacco. His nightly diatribes were pure, unintended comic gold as he reassured dispatchers that he was fine while he was helping a motorist change a tire-advising that it was going to “take a while, ’cause this truck’s lug nuts are so dag-gone rusty and it’s basically sittin’ in a crick (aka creek)”.
Others aren’t so singularly identifiable, because they fall into the same mold as others. Sometimes it’s entertaining, but during those busy shifts, not so much. Let me introduce some of them to you:
There’s the “I hate to type, so I’ll have dispatch do it for me after I chew up radio time to do something that I could do for myself but I don’t want to do it, so I’m not going to do it, so dispatch just type everything I’m saying” guy that makes me want to bang my head on a solid surface until the pain goes away.
There’s the “I sound like I am being murdered every time I key up” officer who literally makes me jump each time he or she keys up because they are so hyped up-only to announce a mundane event and make me want to slap them in the face.
There’s the “I am not really listening to my radio, so any radio traffic that is transmitted to me will most assuredly need to be repeated” officer that manages to not hear anything, even when he or she is waiting for a response from another officer or dispatcher.
There’s the “environmentally challenged officer”, who always seems to have the patrol car’s window down too much, or in-car radio too high so everything squeals and squelches, or apparently manages to face into the wind each time he or she transmits.
There’s the “I’m in the middle of shouting commands, but I think I need to key up my radio” officer that announces to everyone that he or she is in the middle of a felony stop before he or she actually says anything radio worthy.
There’s the “I really don’t feel like taking this call, so I’m going to argue every particular thing about it over the radio before I start to respond” officer. This officer really doesn’t enjoy the something he or she is about to do, so he or she will make sure the entire county rolls it’s collective eyes all at once and scream “just take the damn call already”.
There’s the “I really wanted to be a state trooper so I’ll use some obscure code on the radio to feel more important” officer who spent way too much time either as a dispatcher somewhere else, or has far too much time to review some ancient code sheet that no one uses anymore because we’re supposed to use plain-English now.
There’s the polar opposite, but similarly challenged “my microphone is too close to my mouth” or “my microphone is at least two arms lengths away” officers that just can’t seem to understand the proxemics of microphone use. When these officers key up and speak, it either sounds as though the microphone will have bite marks in it, or that they are using toes to key up and talk.
There’s the “I don’t know the phonetic-alphabet, so I’ll just spell this name really slow” officer, who likely began as the “I don’t know the phonetic-alphabet, so I’m just going to make stuff up” officer. This guy or gal can be good comic relief in the beginning, dropping a random “D as in Dick” rather than a “D as in David” over the air. Another cousin is the “I was in the military and I’m having a hard time remembering which phonetic alphabet world I am in” officer.
There’s the “I hate talking on the radio so I’m going to say something really fast to stop talking on the radio” officer. Brevity has found a match in this one.
There’s the “um, I um, forgot what I was going to say but I’m just going to keep saying um until it comes to me” officer. This one most likely just started or finished training, or really experiences a bubble between the brain and tongue as soon as the button is keyed to transmit.
And last but not least, there’s the “salty dog who will talk plainly and clearly no matter what is happening” officer. You can shoot at this officer, run away on foot or in a vehicle, or throw anything at him or her, you won’t notice a single change in voice inflection or tone. This one is probably pretty well seasoned and worth his or her weight in gold in an emergency.
This list is by no means all inclusive. I’ve missed some down the line. And the officers who fall into these types sometimes transcend into others. We’ve all been in one or the other group during our careers. Some are so deeply buried and engrained with their rituals and habits that they’ll never recover from it. I figure I have about 20 more years before I no longer have to worry about hearing these knuckleheads on the radio, so I may as well just suck it up and move on. We may have never met, but they’re still my brothers and sisters. I’m comfortable in dysfunction, it’s kind of my thing.
Feel free to add groups in the comments section. But seriously, God never intended for a police communications system to be designed by firemen.
Well, it’s time to go patrol the Donut…