April 30, 2010 - 5:54 pm

I wanted to write something to inform you of the impact the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau of the FCC has on the lives of millions of first responders and their families. This is especially relevant now, because May 9-15, 2010 is National Law Enforcement Week.

I am the Outreach Coordinator for the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, and I want to share with you some professional and personal insights on the importance of effective, efficient public safety communications.

So many times we get caught up in the day-to-day “to-do” lists at work, and we forget to think about why we do what we do.  Why is the work of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau of the FCC so important?  Well, I want to remind you from a public safety practitioner’s viewpoint, why.

I spent 18 years in the criminal justice field.  Six of those years were spent as an Intensive Probation/Parole Officer in NC; ten years as the director of a public safety training program in NC where we trained law enforcement officers, fire fighters, EMTs, crime scene technicians and telecommunicators; and two years were spent working for the NC Attorney General’s office as the Deputy Director for the division that certifies all the law enforcement officers, correctional officers, juvenile justice officers, radar operators and criminal justice trainers in the State.  Needless to say, I have spent most of my adult life in the first responder world.  I have many, many friends who put on a uniform every day and who do it because they love it, and they know they are making a difference in people’s lives.  I also have family members who have answered that same call.  Therefore, I have the professional experience to tell you why the actions of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau make a difference, and I also have the personal experience to tell you why it’s important to millions of first responder families.

When I was a probation officer, I would begin my work day in the field by putting on my bullet-proof vest, my sidearm, my handcuffs and last, but definitely not least, my radio.  If someone had told me that I had to choose one of those tools and it was the only one I could take, there is no doubt it would have been my radio.  When I went out to do my home visits and curfew checks or to make arrests, my only line of communication with other officers and the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) was that radio.  It was the one thing that connected me to the rest of the world, and I knew that if something bad happened, my ability to use my radio to reach the PSAP and/or other officers could save my life.

This is also true for law enforcement officers as they are making “routine” traffic stops or answering “routine” calls for service. (Keep in mind, in the criminal justice profession we don’t like to use the word “routine” because there really are no “routine” stops or calls for service.)  Officers rely on their radios to communicate their location, call in license tags and operators’ license numbers, check for warrants, and call other officers for assistance.  There are also ways in which officers can communicate with a PSAP just by pressing a button on their radio that automatically signals the PSAP that an officer is in trouble without him or her having to utter a word.  This is extremely important if an officer is unable to talk either because of circumstances or due to an injury.  This can be and has been a life-saving tool.

I have also had the unpleasant experience of knowing several officers who have died in the line of duty.  These were great officers who made the ultimate sacrifice, whose murderers were caught largely, in part, to the officers’ last radio transmissions.  For example, two officers from Charlotte, NC, Anthony Nobles and John Burnette, were viciously gunned down on October 5, 1993.  Both officers were in their 20s and had their whole lives ahead of them.  They were riding together that night on patrol, which was generally not the norm in Charlotte.  Early in their shift they pulled a car over that had been reported stolen and called in the tag and location of the stop. At that time, the driver jumped out and ran from the car into nearby woods.  Officers Burnette and Nobles followed.  Once they got into the woods, the subject, who was much larger than either of the officers, subdued one and took his service weapon from his holster.  At point blank range, the suspect shot and killed him. The other officer quickly approached the scene and the subject shot and killed him as well.

Because the officers were no longer answering their radios, the PSAP immediately sent other officers to where Officers Burnette and Nobles had called in their traffic stop and location.  The search for the suspect began from that location and, after a manhunt that lasted many hours, the killer was apprehended.

I tell you this story not for the shock value, but because I want you to understand that because those officers had the ability to use their radios to call in their location and the description of the driver, and because their radios worked like they were supposed to, an arrest was made.  This ultimately ended up being a capital murder trial that resulted in a conviction. Had it not been for their radio transmissions, it is possible the suspect would not have been caught as quickly or may never have been caught and convicted.

What PSHSB does matters.

Most stories aren’t as dramatic as the one I just told you.  Most officers begin and end their shift with very little drama and, many times, that’s because they have the ability to communicate with PSAPs and other officers so that if they need assistance they can get it quickly.  Most officers would agree that their radio is their most important tool and that they would not be nearly as effective or safe without it.

On a very personal note, my son-in-law is a sheriff’s deputy in NC.  He is married to my 25 year old step-daughter and they have a precious one year old daughter.  I have a vested interest in his safety and the future of my step-daughter and my granddaughter.  It matters to me that all of his equipment works properly, especially his radio.  I want to know that if and when he is on a SWAT call out, he can talk to his commanders or the critical incident negotiator.  I want to know that when he’s out making a traffic stop on a country road, with no help in sight for 20 miles, that he can at least communicate with his PSAP and other deputies. I want them to know where he is so that if he needs assistance he can get it.  It matters to me on a professional level, but it matters to me even more on a personal level.  He is part of my family, and I want him to be safe.  I want him to go home to his wife and daughter and hug them both and say “I’m home.”

What PSHSB does matters.  We never forget it.