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How to Improve Situational Awareness in Law Enforcement

An officer’s ability to maintain heightened levels of situational awareness is directly related to positive safety outcomes. With the right training and tools, you can help your team increase situational awareness so that they can make the right decisions under pressure.

When a police officer arrives on a scene, anything can happen. Being situationally aware equips officers to respond quickly and appropriately to situations as they arise, helping them and the community members they serve get home safely.

“Knowing what is going on around you is critical to your ability to respond quickly and, more importantly, accurately,” says Donno Cole, public safety expert, Axon. “Without [situational awareness], the number of injuries rise, the fatalities that occur increase, the number of complaints against departments go up, the number of interactions with citizens that go negatively can surge — everything is affected. Knowing what's happening is paramount.”

With the right tools and training, officers can improve their situational awareness so they’re empowered to make decisions that save lives.

 

The challenges of being situationally aware

At its core, situational awareness is about information — the information that is available to officers and the ability for officers to make decisions based on that information.

While officers are charged with staying apprised of what’s happening at a scene, they also rely on the dispatch center for developments and additional information that can impact how the situation could evolve.

“Think of the dispatch center as providing this umbrella of coverage — the officers on a specific scene are dealing with that specific incident, [while] dispatchers have a holistic view to everything that's going on,” Cole explains.

Being able to communicate — with dispatchers and fellow officers — is critical to ensuring positive safety outcomes. But it’s also a leading challenge for officers on a scene.

“While [officers] are focused on responding to an event … you're limited in your ability to keep your partners and your dispatch operation up to date by what you can voice over the radio,” Cole says. “You can't divert your attention from the situation unless it's stable enough or you have enough backup units on the scene for you to grab your microphone, push the button, wait, have a channel open, talk to the dispatcher and accurately relay what’s happening.”

In an unstable scenario, diverting your attention from the situation to communicate could be dangerous.

 

How to improve situational awareness

Not being able to communicate about a scene without voice updates can leave officers unable to receive critical information from dispatchers and other officers, lowering situational awareness.

“How often do outcomes result negatively because a situation wasn't accurately represented or communicated to enough people that could have made a difference?” Cole says. “That link to just having to always update everyone by voice is a significant challenge.”

Axon Body 3 cameras resolve this by allowing anyone with the appropriate permission to view, in real time, the video and audio an officer is experiencing.

“You now infinitely increase the amount of brain power that's available to handle that situation,” Cole says. “An officer with varying degrees of experience in the field can have the augmented support of almost an entire department who can see and hear what an officer is experiencing.”

For dispatchers, this means real-time updates that enable them to dispatch additional units when needed — and to accurately inform those units about what’s happening on the scene.

“I can now watch that video and tell the responders precisely what is occurring,” Cole says. “There's no more guessing — the responders aren't driving up to the scene wondering why they are being dispatched as backup units to a parking complaint.”

Axon Body 3 with Axon Signal Sidearm, Axon Signal Vehicle and other connected sensors create a comprehensive picture of what’s happening at a scene so dispatchers, department leaders and officers are equipped with the information they need to make the best decisions as the scene unfolds.

“Alerts and notifications, video and audio, the Signal Sidearm, when the TASER CEW is armed — these things are game-changing as far as how the [public safety answering point (PSAP)] will react to those events and how the PSAP can help guide additional responders and backup, all with the goal of protecting life and making sure everybody gets home safe,” Cole says.

 

Get the picture

It’s possible to give your team a clearer picture of what’s happening at a scene. Contact Axon to learn more about how its devices and software can help your officers improve their situational awareness.