The Communication Scar


Earlier today I watched a video – of a situation that sadly ended with the death of an officer. In it, I saw – or rather heard – something that rears it’s head on a routine basis in survival and tactical situations. A fixation with the radio.

It’s most obvious in some of the “cop gets beat down” videos. An officer being pummeled and instead of defending him or herself, they are on the radio screaming for help. Or, the minute shots are fired, the screams into the radio “shots fired!”

In the video I watched it occurred not once, but twice. A shot is fired, and someone is yelling “shots fired!” Then more shots, and again, “shots fired!”


Training, and repetition, of course. Early on, officers are taught that the radio is their “life line,” which it is, of sorts. And then over a career of a few or many years, they are constantly on the radio giving updates on location and status, letting everyone else know what is going on… It becomes a powerful habit, and officers are actually downgraded in training for failing to update properly through the radio.

A communication training scar.

This turns out to be counter-productive in the critical moments of a survival encounter, in particular a shooting engagement. Time spent transmitting is time spent dwelling in a task not related to stopping the threat right now. When rounds can be sent in your direction in a fraction of a second, that second on the radio equates to multiple rounds…

The problem can be exacerbated by the habits of the officer in wearing the radio. Some old school folks still pull the whole hand-held out and talk. More frequently, officers wear a lapel mic. But many officers choose the wear the mic in this manner:

cop transmitting

This is a problem.

This officer must turn his entire head in order to transmit clearly. In day to day contacts, when the subject being talked to is typically in front of  the officer, this officer – like many others, actually places his head in a perfect position for a sucker-punch knockout. He takes his eyes off the subject, and won’t see anything coming from his left side.

Now, in a lethal threat encounter, when the officer will instinctively be orienting his body toward the threat – he still must turn away to get out that “shot fired” call… so a powerful, ingrained habit of getting on the radio while placing one’s body in a very bad fighting position is coupled with extreme stress at a time when it is least affordable.

I train newbies to put their mic centerline, either in the lapel of their duty shirt above the vest, or now with the external carrier being more common, in the center of the top edge of the vest. I’ve even placed a zip tie on a couple of my vests and I just clip the mic there.

That way, I can face my subject, when I transmit I actually have to keep my neck straight, bring my chin down, and key the mic with my hand close to my chin. A much more defensible position. Even when keying up at the radio and not the mic, my head and neck are in a much stronger position.

This doesn’t change the fact that I should not be on the radio when shots are being fired. I should be dealing with the threat.

First things First.

It’s Shoot, Move, Communicate. Or better yet, Shoot, Move, and then Communicate.

Much better to be able to relay “shots fired, subject down, all officers are okay. Send medical code 3” in calm, even tones (once you’ve taken a couple breaths, than to scream that shots are being fired multiple times, while the gunfight is still going on.





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