The Phoenix Police Department communications section came into being in November 28, 1932 when our department established the first police radio system in the state of Arizona.

Previously, a bright light with an attached horn had been placed on a tower on top of Police Headquarters. This light would be turned on and the horn would sound signaling patrol Officers to go to the nearest Police Call Box and check for a call waiting on a Police Phone.

 “Paris Alley” Call Box            Police Field Telephone

The main transmitter was a De Forest, the call letters for this station were KGZJ. The radio room was located on the fifth floor of the police building (17 S. 2nd Ave) at the entrance to the city jail.  Much the equipment was homemade for this operation.  The tower with the antennas was on the roof of what was the police Building.  Compared to the system that is in operation today, this system was very simple. All broadcasts from the station were fed directly into the transmitter. The transmitter was on one frequency, and the receivers on another. 

The cars were not equipped to talk from car to car therefore it was a one-way radio system.  Because Police Radio systems were in their infancy at this time, much of the equipment in use in the cars was homemade. 

The system was used from 1932 until September 29, 1950 when frequency congestion forced the department to change to an FM frequency.  During this period, other Arizona agencies became radio equipped.  Difficulties arose because the other agencies that had radio frequencies were all on the same frequency as Phoenix. Our department’s radio room would talk to them as well as pick up their messages when their units were close to Phoenix

This system was used with little modification unit 1950 when a new station KOA 789 was started September 29, 1950 and KGXJ went out of service.

The new system provided service to the forty-seven mobile units then in the field.  The radio communications facilities remained in the same location near the entrance to City jail. The use of FM gave the station cleared and cleaner receptions.

In 1950, the radio room moved downstairs and was expanded to two frequencies.  Expansion again came in 1965 when the radio room was remodeled and enlarged to accommodate the use of the five frequencies then in service.  The radio section now handles nine different radio frequencies with over 7,000,000 transmissions yearly, dispatching 360,000 calls per year.

Patrol Officer on mobile radio ca. 1960

The one frequency FM system was used until 1960.  During this period, the radio room was still at the same location.  The complaint desk was located on the first floor.  When complaint desk received a call that required the services of a police officer, the information was relayed to the radio room by a direct line phone.  There was no change in the system until 1960 when another frequency was added.  Shortly after the new frequency was added, the Headquarter section on the first floor was remodeled.  This remolding included a new radio room.  This put the complaint desk next to the radio, providing closer contact.  The use of dispatch cards was commenced after this change over.  The complaint clerks would put all the information that could be obtained on the dispatch card and send them to the radio room by the way of a conveyor belt. 

In April 1965, a larger and more modern radio room was built at the rear of the headquarters section.  Shortly after this new radio room was put in to service other frequencies were added for a total of five.  These were known as North, West, East, Detectives and Chase (so named for pursuit activity).  The new radio room was designed with consoles for North, West, East and Detectives frequencies built in a semi circle facing a status board.  Between the East and West consoles was an extra consol used by the radio room supervisor for monitoring purposes.  The chase frequency was situated to the rear and in the center of the semi circle of the other frequencies.  On the wall in front of the consoles was a large status board that was nothing more than a large map of the city divided in districts, squad’s areas and beats.  Each beat was made to accommodate 2 beat units.  One would have the regular beat number.  If a second unit was needed an “A” would be added to the beat number. such as 820, 820A.  On the status board each beat had four lights: a green, blue, red and amber.  The green indicated “in service”, red for “out of service”.  The blue and amber lights were for the “A” units if one was used: blue for “In-service” and amber for “out of service”.  If there was no unit covering a particular beat, all the lights could be turned off.  The lights were activated by the radio operators by means of a card minder.  When a car was dispatched on a call or out of service for any other reason, a card is placed in the card minder slot designated for the beat.  Inserting the card turned the green or blue light off and the red or amber one on.  At a glance the dispatcher could tell how many units there were, and which unit were in service.

In February 1967, work had begun on a microwave radio system.  There were 480 mobile radios assigned to the police department.  All of these were not actually in vehicles at this time.  During this time the radio communications section began to change from the use of uniformed police officers to civilian dispatchers in 1967.  This has proved quite satisfactory.  It freed a number of police officers for duty on the street and in addition, provided the ability to increase the communications section personnel to handle the increasing work load.

The change in the front desk section of the communications bureau had been startling over the past years.  In the beginning, only a desk sergeant was on duty with several compliant clerks who typed reports and answered telephone calls from the citizens.  These calls were then relayed to the radio room by means of the direct line to operators for dispatch to the cars.  When the radio room had moved downstairs, a conveyor belt system was inaugurated to carry the calls from the Communications Section Headquarters to the radio room.  In 1966, the use of complaint officers of the telephone greatly expanded the section and with the advent of the Crime stop program in 1967, the volume of calls increased greatly.  The section would handled over 850,000 calls per year at the time.

In order to operate the radio system, there was a total station manning requirement of nine people, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  The Communications links extended throughout he LETS and NCIC teletype systems all over the country; in addition, they monitored ten other local valley law enforcement agencies.

The entire communications bureau was a portion of the Administrative Services Division of the police department and service was their primary objective.  They provided service to the citizens in the form of telephone assistance for the direction of police cars to the citizen/s home.  In addition, the posting of bail and processing of arrest records were also carried out for field personnel.  This theme of service to the citizens was also carried out in regard to the Operations personnel.  Radio operators many times provided the only communications link with the officers in their car.  Operators dispatched calls to the officers, make telephone inquires for registrations, drivers license information, checked wants and stolen on persons, automobiles, property and other items.

Each console position was equipped with a monitoring system for the AHP, (Arizona Highway Patrol but now known as the Department of Public Safety), MCSO, Scottsdale and Glendale.  Also, in the teletype room was a monitor for the airport frequencies.  This was used when an aircraft emergency arose.

Each console position was equipped with a 30-button telephone call directory.  Direct lines were available to all the departments and agencies that are the most frequently used such as MVD, MCSO, Ambulances, AHP.

Working in close cooperation with the radio room was the complain section.  The complaint section was the receiving center for all telephone complaints within the city of Phoenix.  Police officers have been assigned to this section to answer the compliant telephones.  It was their responsibility to determine the nature of the call and whether to dispatch an officer or take care of the matter on the phone.  Each compliant officer position has a 30 button Centrex telephone call directory, 16 of these lines are the Crime stop lines. 

The following procedure was used when the compliant officers decided that a car should be dispatched, and the nature of the call was not an emergency.  First the received time, nature of the occurrence location of the occurrence is place on the computer punch card.  The officer would also attempt to obtain any information that would assist the field officer.  The cards were then sent to the radio room by conveyor bell.

There were two hot line phone systems for emergency calls.   The first one was set off by the city telephone operator when they felt the incoming call is an emergency.  The second is set off by a compliant officer when they determined the call is an emergency.  In either case, the phone also rung in the radio room.  Besides the desk officer answering the phone when the city operator hits the hot line or the compliant officer, a complaint clerk, the radio sergeant, and two chase dispatchers would also answer the phone.  The desk or compliant officer would obtain the information, the radio sergeant determined whether to put the call on simulcast other frequency involved.  The compliant clerk would put the information on the computer card.  If is put on simulcast, the chase operator then would put out the information as it is given over the phone insuring instant response. When sufficient units are en route they were advised to switch to Chase.  The other frequencies were then clear for normal traffic. 

The FBI also had their vehicles equipped with two-way radio on the Phoenix police Chase radio frequency.  This had proved invaluable when coordination between theses two agencies is necessary.  When non-emergency calls are received at the complaint desk and the necessary information obtained, the computer card was sent to the radio room.  When it arrives in the radio room it was checked for location and type of call.  The card was then given to the proper district operator for dispatching.  When the radio operator received the computer card, a glance at the status board tells the operator who is “in service” to send.  After dispatching the call, the operator would add to the card the status and the unit sent.  The card was then placed in the card minder.  When the unit arrived at their destination, they advised the operator.  The arrival time was also noted on the computer card.  When the officer completed the call, they would advise the operator the type of call, the disposition based on the investigation, and the grid coordinates.  These along with the completion of time are placed on the computer card.  The cards are then placed in chronological order and once a day sent to data processing.  The cards are fed into the computer and a daily printout was made giving the different type of class, time received, lapses of time between each phone, location and grid.  This was all given by beat number.  At the end of each month, a recap of the month activities is made.  This recap included the beat, unit dispatched, district, response, and elapsed time information, a summary of the time by disposition code, hour of the day, day of the week, and average time spent of the call for services.  A weekly deployment forecast printout was made for the upcoming week showing the day, shift, district and beat, the number of calls that can be expected and the amount of time that will be spent answering calls for service.   

 Now Retired Lt. Hugh Ennis #695 had predicted several decades ago that “the future of the communications section seems to be pointed in the direction of computers and computers-based dispatching.

This, however, will not eliminate police dispatchers.  It will simply free them for much of the route work load.  With improved methods of transmission, it is conceived that calls will be received, entered into a computer system and much of the dispatching will be handled on a data transition basis rather than by voice.  It is also conceived that responses from the patrol cars will be received in the form of data transmission eliminating much of the chatter over routine matters on the air.  This will when release the frequencies for voice communications free of the routine traffic.”

Today the radio is … and dispatching is done with a Computer Aided Dispatching system with Automatic computer information on location of calls and subscriber information.  Since 1990 the city of Phoenix has had a digital radio system at a cost of 126 million dollars with xxx talk groups.  The system has become a valley wide interoperability system of a Regional Wireless Cooperative with 15 police agencies and xx fire departments.

Police Communications Operator in Training
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