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APCO: Ride-alongs aid communications personnel training

By Bob Smith, Director of Strategic Development, APCO International

Many communications centers today incorporate some form of “ride-along” program into their employee training process – enabling firefighters to show first-hand the challenges they face.

Allowing trainee telecommunicators to actually see some specific areas of their jurisdiction by spending time with one of the field agencies they work with on a daily basis benefits both parties.

Comm centers may receive calls from people who have lived in the area all their lives, and expect everyone to know their way around just as well as they do. Longtime residents may refer to landmarks or buildings as “the bank” or “where the high school used to be.” While these descriptions may mean something to the caller, they may mean little to the telecommunicator and the field agencies they dispatch.

Although computer aided dispatch systems, mapping software and other technology has enhanced the ability of comm centers to locate an incident, the need to learn geography the old fashioned way – to get out of the Comm Center and drive or ride around in unfamiliar areas – still exists.

This is something police departments should play a leading role in as a dependence on technology is only advantageous as long as the technology is operating properly and accurately.

This is where a ride-along program can be beneficial. Ride-along programs pair a trainee telecommunicator with an experienced representative of the fire department or other field agency for a specific period of time as that field agency representative performs their daily activities.

This may include riding with a law enforcement officer as they perform their routine patrol activities. Another alternative is to have the trainee telecommunicator ride-along with a supervisor who will be able to take the time to dedicate to the ride-along and perform little to no other activities outside of showing the telecommunicator important areas of their jurisdiction.

Here are some steps LE agencies can take
Law enforcement agencies normally operate within certain geographical areas defined by city, county or state boundaries. It is important telecommunicators know these boundaries and understand cross-jurisdictional issues because, among other issues, an officer’s arrest powers may be affected when crossing jurisdictional boundaries.

If the possibility exists, the telecommunicator should be allowed to ride-along with all law enforcement agencies within their jurisdiction. Each municipality will have different areas that the telecommunicator will need to be familiar with and county sheriff’s departments will have areas that are specific to their operations as well. If a department’s jurisdiction is divided into beats or zones for patrol purposes, it may also be beneficial for the telecommunicator to partake in a ride-along in each area.
During law enforcement ride-alongs some areas that may be explored are:

• High crime areas or trouble spots that receive higher call rates.
• Public gathering areas such as parks, malls, community centers or civic centers, etc.
• Areas that host special events that attract large numbers of people such as sports-venues, concert halls, fairgrounds, etc.
• Important landmarks and high profile areas such as popular night clubs, schools, tourist attractions, etc.

Don’t forget Fire Service and EMS
I cover this in much greater detail on PoliceOne’s “sister sites” FireRescue1 and EMS1, but it’s worth mentioning here that those service areas sometimes differ from the simple political jurisdictional boundaries of cities or counties. Municipal or rural fire service districts may create areas that do not follow normal political boundaries. Arrangements between agencies may also provide mutual aid and mutual response under certain circumstances. Telecommunicators must understand these arrangements and be able to work effectively within them.

In addition to teaching telecommunicators about their jurisdiction and the areas their comm centers cover, police departments that are proactive in offering ride-alongs allow telecommunicators to experience the operations of the field agencies they work with. They will get to see the equipment and personnel in action and see what life is like “on the other side of the radio.”

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