By James Careless, P1 Contributor

Effective, reliable and clear communications are the bedrock of any successful tactical operation. When tactical officers can converse easily with each other and dispatch, their operational effectiveness and survivability is enhanced. At the same time, auditory changes in the operating environment are not masked by these communication devices, because doing so would compromise situational awareness.

Over the years, manufacturers of tactical communications headsets have offered a range of listening, speaking and noise protection configurations for users. The key for police departments is to choose headsets for their tactical teams that incorporate the latest technological advances, so that officer communications and safety are maximized without compromising in other aspects of operation.

Small is in

The more weight an officer has to carry on their head, the more discomfort and fatigue they will experience in the line of duty; both of which can negatively affect their performance and response time.

This is why choosing a small in-ear headset – one that provides audio to both ears via wires connected to a wearable battery-powered control unit – makes the most sense; compared to an over-the-head headset. An in-ear headset not only keeps discomfort and weight down, but it can easily fit easily under helmets and other protective headgear.

Automatic level control

Firing a rifle by an officer’s head can deliver 140 decibels of ear-damaging “impulse noise.” (Hearing protection is recommended for humans at 85 decibels and above.)

Ideally, any form of tactical headset should provide the wearer with protection against such impulse noises; both to protect their hearing and to avoid “startling” the officer, so that their attention isn’t distracted.

At the same time, the headset should allow the wearer to hear the quietest sounds; both on their comm channel, and from their operating environment. In some cases, it should boost these levels, so that the user can catch important noises that they otherwise would have missed.

This is why a tactical headset needs to offer battery-powered automatic level control. Such a system should automatically reduce impulse noises using electronic noise suppression; which means the unit must actively listen to the environment to reduce loud audio in real-time. (Compact electronic noise suppression is better than wearing bulky ear muffs.) It should also not muffle ambient sounds, and indeed allows the wearer to boost the headsets’ volume as need be.

Integrated microphones

Although they look good on TV, boom microphones on tactical headsets get in the way in real-life.

This is why manufacturers have eliminated “boom mics” – plus lapel and speaker mics – and built pin-sized microphones into their in-ear headset earpieces instead. These “micro-microphones” offer the same performance as their larger cousins, but not their weight and inconvenience.

No compromise

With so much riding on a tactical team’s communications, it makes sense for PDs to buy the most advanced, compact and reliable headsets possible for their SWAT and other special operations teams. In-ear headsets fit these criteria to a T.

About the author James Careless is a freelance writer with extensive experience covering law enforcement topics.

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