Choosing radios for a police department is one of the most important decisions Command Staff can make. Radios are a lifeline for the officers as well as a very important communication tool.

Eighty-nine officers died in the line of duty in 2019. That number could have been much higher without a properly functioning radio system. In the following article, we’re going to teach you what to look for when making the decision.

There are seven points to consider in all. First, however, let’s delve deeper into why police departments still use radios. 

All-Way Communication

They are called two-way radios, but that doesn’t quite depict the power of connectivity they provide between the officers and dispatch. A proper radio system allows officers to hear the chatter back-and-forth between their fellow officers and the 911 center.

At the same time, they can alert every officer on duty when a fellow officer doesn’t answer his or her check-ins. This can speed up the time of response to the officer’s location in an emergency situation. 

Collaboration With Other Agencies

Police departments may only need two or three channels on their own: one for public transmissions and encrypted channels for more sensitive data sharing. They also can communicate quickly and efficiently with fire department personnel and EMS. 

Easier Tracing for Data Centers

Again, data centers such as 911 can use radio systems to easily get a read on their officers’ locations with a much faster response time than smartphones and other traditional forms of communication. 

Now that we know why radios are still vital to a department’s success, it’s time to go about choosing the proper radio setup for your department. Here are the seven pointers to ensure that you do it the right way.

1. Choose the Proper Formatting

There are many methods of communication to consider when choosing radios. Bear with us as we get a bit technical.

  1. Trunked: this type of digital radio communication allows a group of officers and dispatchers to communicate across multiple radio channels for continuous conversation even if frequencies change along the way.
  2. Analog: using frequency modulation, analog radios play continuous sound through carrier waves from the site of the communication. Their non-digital nature makes them more susceptible to picking up interference and chatter.
  3. Phase 1 digital: a form of digital radio communication that allows a digital channel to run alongside narrow-band FM. These provide for an effective transition from analog to digital.
  4. Phase 2 digital: These types of radios provide additional digital channels per 12.5 kilohertz of bandwidth for easier transitions from analog to digital.

There are merits to each of these systems. As a police department, especially ones that are larger or growing, you’ll want to focus on Phase 2 digital.

2. Determine Where Your Needs Are

Once you’ve decided on a type of radio system, it’s time to think about the hardware. Where are most of your needs? Consider these types of radios for your department: 

  • Base units

These stay in one location and are not designed to be mobile. They are best used for 911 centers and administration.

  • Handheld units

This type of hardware should be lightweight so the officer in the field can wear it on his or her person and always have it with him when needed.

  • Mobile units

These units stay in the vehicle and provide easy hands-free communication between the officer and dispatch as they travel to a scene or pursue a suspect. Mobile unit typically are 50-100 watts, with a roof mounted antenn, sdo the range is much better than hadhelds

All three radio types are valuable in police communications. You’ll just have to ensure the proper ratio that you’ll need within your department. 

3. Ensure Tech Specs Will Cover You

Developing a properly functioning radio communications system for your department means having the coverage that you’ll need for your community. Get a footprint of the community you serve.

How many miles are the radios good for? Public Safety depts (Police, Fire, Amulance etc.) usually have a backbone of repeaters, as well as voice over internet (VOIP) so they can extend ther usable range, to cover most of a county or large area, and can even co-ordinate with other Publice safety operations in other counties or even other states.

Also, go with the highest wattage that you can. five or six-watt radios are much more steady and reliable when it comes to dips in the signal.

4. Privacy Is Imperative

There is much debate over whether departments should use encrypted channels, but you don’t have to work in law enforcement very long to see their value. Non-encrypted channels are available to virtually everyone with an analog or digital radio, including criminals.

Switching to an encrypted channel allows you to communicate positions without giving away anything. It also allows you to share sensitive information, such as sexual assault victim names and juveniles, that are protected from public disclosure. 

5. Get a Headcount

Police radio cost is always a major factor when gearing up to buy. After all, you’re not buying a couple of cheapie radios from Walmart. You’re buying  expensive radios on which the communication of your department, and ultimately your life depends.

That easily becomes a major expense once you consider how many officers and dispatchers are in your department. You’ll also not want to forget the people in the administration who require a radio to do their jobs properly (PIOs, for example). As you source plans and providers, know exactly what you need. 

6. Keep Bidding Requirements in Mind

Communication with police radios is not entirely a police decision. Some cities and counties will set limits on the purchases that you can make without a call for competitive bidding. 

Therefore, it’s important to know the full scope of your purchasing request. If you do have to set it out to bid, you’ll want apples-to-apples comparisons. 

7. Stick the Transition

Whatever your existing radio communications system is, it won’t go away overnight. You’ll need to make sure communications continue flawlessly as you transition to the new system. Make sure you’ve developed a plan that allows the two to run alongside each other until you’re confident with the integration.

These Tips for Choosing Radios Will Keep Your Agency Covered

Choosing radios is a very important task to every police department. Taking the advice presented here will ensure that your agency avoids communication breakdowns.

If you’re ready to make the transition, consider King Radios for your next purchase. Read more about our company here.