Friday, March 27, 2009

Is There Anybody Out There?

When we hear someone say "10-9?" on the radio the person is asking "What did you just say?"

We get an awful lot of that. Garbled transmissions. Static. Dropped calls. No verizon network backing up our communications. The little smiling "Can you hear me now?" dude and his mob would run for cover if they saw the state of our network. Or lick their chops and be pre-totaling their commission checks.

For a place that runs on radios, you'd think we would have better ones. Hell, we're lucky to have radios at all.

The guys that run the comm room always laugh and say that the radio is guaranteed to work until you walk away from their door. Then you are on your own.

That's pretty much the deal.

Bad batteries. Bad chargers. Crummy antennas. Broken mike cords. Weather interference. Sunspots. Whatever.


Worn out.


And someone's life may be dangling on the end of that garbage.

Granted, we are hard on the equipment. That's part of why most of it is broken. The average Corrections Officer doesn't seem to be smart enough to operate a pencil, let alone something electronic. They mumble and mutter. They put the mike too close or too far away from their mouth. Or worse, they sound wayyyyyy too excited when making mundane radio calls. There's someone (I think she's a cook) who sounds like there is a fight going on every time she gets on the radio. In the first two seconds of her every radio transmission my heart races and I go into "fight or flight" mode before I realize what's going on.

But even on a good day with a good radio, the damn things don't work very good. There was one day when I was outside and saw a fight going on on the other side of the yard. I would have had to run through the house, through at least three doors and one gate to get there myself so I just called a 10-49 (fight) on the radio.


Moved a little further away from the house and called it again.


Moved a little further away from the house and called it again.

They finally heard me that time. By then they guys were getting tired and starting to wind down. The average fight on the yard only lasts about ten seconds and it was a full minute from the time they started until officers arrived to break them up.


There's two radio calls that we really don't want to hear. The first is (of course) a 10-49. That means a fight in progress. And if you go rushing in to break up a fight you never know what you are getting into. Might just be fists. But it might be something more. One or more of them might be swinging a lock in a sock or a rock in a sock (no Dr. Suess references, please) or a razor blade or some sort of shank. There may be blood everywhere and you can't tell by looking at them who has got what in the way of infectious diseases. There's an awful lot of HIV and heapatitis loose in our camp.

The second call you never want to hear is a 10-5. Officer Needs Assistance. Right Freaking Now. That means someone is in serious trouble and every swinging richard with a badge on the camp best be heading in that direction, because some bad snap is happening.

But what if you don't hear it?

Or even worse.... what if you call it and nobody hears you?

It happens. And people get hurt. Officers get hurt. Real people.

But of course it would cost money to get our radio system up to even minimal standards. And, of course, there's no money to be had.

But hey......

What if we had taken the money we just spent on the fire alarm system that doesn't work properly and goes off with false alarms four or five times a day and spent it on new radios and a new repeater base station instead? We might actually have something that works, then.

That would have been nice.



  1. We actually had one, and maybe two missed 10-49 calls today. Coincidence? I think you're psychotic, errr.... psychic!

  2. BA- I just sit and listen to all the partial radio traffic I hear. How many times have you heard a garbled mess and the only thing discernible was a 5 or a 9? That crap just gives me palpitations.

    Doc R- I hear ya..... I think.... What?

  3. A gal I knew lived within sight of a big prison out here and she pick up their radio calls on her baby monitor. One of the guys who worked there said she got better reception on the monitor than they did in the prison.

  4. I sometimes stand by the COs station when I am waiting for an inmate to come over so I can Pshrink his head and during that time the security staff are doing radio checks. The COs are pretty much silent and you don't want to be caught trying to have a conversation with one during radio checks because they don't want to miss their number being called. I guess control just goes down the line and calls each radio. They are all Eagles. Eagle 1 is the big W, Eagle 2 the deputy W, etc. So contol is going down the line and progressing through the numbers and I hear

    "Control to Eagle 34" ... silence ... "Control to Eagle 34" ... more silence... "control to Eagle 34"... nothing.... "control to Eagle 35" ... response ... " control to Eagle 36" .. response. Now I was never trained in radio protocols but I had to speak up and ask if anybody cared where 34 was? Someone said "well sometimes people are in meetings or on the phone and don't know they are being called." He then explained that no one was going to go look for 34 and many didn't really know who 34 was that day or even cared. I just have walk away shaking my head and hope they aren't doing inmate count and just skipping guys who aren't there.

    I do not speak radio so I never know what is being said but I am pretty sure a 10-49 in my state means "the next person to go to McDonalds on their break, bring me a #1 with extra cheese and Coke." I think I figured out that a 1701 followed by a 1305 is "we are meeting at the bar immediately after shift and do NOT bring the wives." But I am just a civilian, what do I know.

  5. Anon- I may start bringing a baby monitor to work. At least I'll be able to hear what's going on.

    Icypup- It would be nice if we did radio checks on a regular basis. But on days there are probably 150 staff with radios, and on evenings, maybe 100. Would take at least an hour to get everyone to answer. At least at our camp if we call someone more then 3 times and they don't answer, we send someone to put eyes on them. We try not to let anyone get lost for too long.