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Radio-Equipped Police Cars

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Radio-Equipped Police Cruising Cars Are Considered Here

AVERY M'BEE The Sun (1837-1989); Sep 27, 1931; pg. 51

Radio-Equipped Police Cruising Cars Are Considered Here

Quick communication with far-flung forces always has been the most pressing of police problems. When the Baltimore Police Department a decade ago pioneered the all-around call system of box lights, it was thought that the final word had been spoken; lights at police boxes flashed and within a few minutes Patrolman on every beat were listening to instructions from headquarters.

The call box the recall light combined for two way communication.

At that time the Baltimore police were proud to host to numerous official visitors who studied the system with admiration and return to their cities convinced that the police millennium had been reached. Another of the city’s “famous first” had appeared and almost every city and village in the country adopted the idea

Seconds Needed Now

But the millennium had not been reached. Because the criminal is among our most progressive citizens, police officials have come to realize that the second now is just as important in emergencies as the minute was when they led the way with the citywide call system. The last word now is radio communication with the squadron of fast patrol cars also on the alert and fully prepared to handle any emergency.

It was not given to Baltimore to develop the system upon the foundation he had laid, but police Commissioner Charles D. Gaither is making a definite move to obtain the ultramodern method of split-second communication, which he believes will discourage criminal activities because of its ability to pick up a trail almost immediately. The Commissioner has petitioned the board of estimates for funds with which to equip a fleet of cars and to install at headquarters a shortwave broadcasting set.

Accounts of the work of the radio-equipped squad cars in other cities are nothing short of marvelous. Stories are told of stolen cars recovered before their motors are really warm, of criminals caught in the very act of holdups frustrated rather than advantaged.

Work Remarkable

If there is one element that stands out more markedly than any other in successful crimes in the last few years, it is time. Your modern felon has developed a sense of timing that is given him a tremendous advantage, and he uses the latest products of science in making his getaway. He robs or murders coolly, with the full realization that so many minutes remain before police can be notified and can pick up his trail. The most successful crimes have been the boldest, yet not necessarily the most reckless, sneak thievery pays small dividends and safe braking is tedious. Broad daylight, a crowded street to furnace plenty of confusion, a fat payroll and a getaway well-planned is a favorite set up of the modern malefactor.

The Time Element

But time is the outstanding hope of success. The holdup man now must reckon with a precision which police believe to be well-nigh impossible. He must break through a mobile line containing information about him even while he is trying to penetrate the cordon.

Buffalo recently instituted the radio-equipped patrol cars. The writer interviewed police Commissioner Boston J. Roche, who declared that amazing reports come to him every day of the work of his radio squad.

Among the First

Among the first cases to be handled on the inaugural day of the Buffalo system was that of a wife beater. It is recounted that the woman, badly mauled, managed to reach a telephone, remove the hook and call for police. The telephone operator passes the information along to headquarters. Immediately it was placed on the air.

The nearest radio car turned quickly into an alley behind the house just in time to see the man desending a fire escape. Alarmed because his wife had called into the telephone, he had abandoned the assault to make good his escape. The radio squad was waiting for him when his foot touched the bottom step.




Prompt Action

“I could cite numerous cases of this kind,” said Commissioner Roche.

“They seem a little hard to believe, yet it is not difficult to understand how things of this sort happen. It must be remembered that our only delay in action is dependent upon the information we received from the scene of the crime. At his extension, the radio broadcast operator is “cut in” on all of the information. In an instant, every patrol car the city has that information.”

Another incident of the buffaloes inaugural date was one of a housebreaking, a neighbor made a report to headquarters and through the loudspeaker in the cars came in these instructions; “squad car number three go to 1234 Blank St. man seen entering the store.” The car was less than a block from the address of the time. The driver slid to the curb while the others jumped from the car. Quickly covering all exits, they closed in and had cornered the thief almost before he had time to begin his work.

Every day, according to Commissioner Roche, automobiles a reported stolen, their license numbers passed on to the radio squad cars and the culprits arrested before they have gone a dozen blocks.

From Detroit and Chicago come reports of holdup men attacked before they have time to start their getaway – taken with their loot and in the presence of those who witnessed a crime. “Take some of our own outstanding crimes, for instance;” said Commissioner Gaither. “What chance with the Norse murderers have had to scatter as they did? Suppose we had the city covered with radio cars at that time. At the first tip off the nearest car would’ve been on its way at full speed to the scene, while all others one of increased their patrol rate and would have been on the alert for the bandits' automobile.” We would’ve been able to pour additional information into the cars as it came to us, even while they were on the lookout for the bandits. As it happened, we rounded up that gang in time, but at what cost?

“The same thing would have applied to the Cohen murders, the son born holdup and many other cases of murder and banditry that have stirred Baltimore. How quickly can we have frustrated the North Avenue bank holdup? One can well imagine how expeditiously the police could act on automatic alarm if we were able to reach instantly a carload of armed men who are sure to be patrolling a short distance from the scene.”

Money-Saving Cited

“Our men have done some remarkable work in the apprehending of criminals after stirring crimes,” Mr. Gaither continued. “In the cases mentioned only the highest praise is that their lot. But think of the time, and manpower, the money that was spent in clearing up those cases!

“I truly believe that the city would save a great deal of money with radio cars. More important than that, I think that criminals would be restrained by the knowledge that such a powerful weapon is being used against them.

Would Aid System

“Our old pioneer all-around system is as good as it ever was. It is by no means out of date, for there are many things they can do now that are entirely out of the line of radio-equipped automobiles. It is necessary for us to keep in constant touch with our patrolman: to give them information and instruction. It would work in splendidly with the newer idea, but we need some means of swift communication with a force that can act on the second - they can meet in an emergency when it arises and yet take care of routine duties as well.

“One of our trolls now in emergency cases is that we cannot coordinate our efforts as we would like to. In case of a holdup or murder, our men get the information over the all-around and, not being sure how well the matter is covered, they hurried to the scene from all directions, being pulled from their beats when they might do more good staying on them. In such cases, everyone available is rushed to the scene. Often, when I get the information, I go myself, not being sure that someone with the power of direction is present to handle the matter.

Matter of Minutes

“With radio cars we could be assured that the scene is covered in a matter of minutes; that other cars are on the lookout, and we could use our all-around to put all police eyes on the watch in their own bailiwicks (districts, sectors, posts) and thus set up a gantlet that would appall any malefactor.”

Observation of the radio car system and other cities has shown not that it's uses lie only in emergencies but that the cars can cover a multitude of routine duties during the course of their patrol. Of course, there most conspicuous service has been in the holdups, murders, robberies, riots and in recovering stolen cars, but they frequently are used to transmit important information in a hurry, to investigate complaints that would not interfere with their patrol and to serve as an additional link between headquarters and a patrolman on foot.

Service Extended

In other cities with radio patrol cars are in use the services being extended greatly outside the corporate limits. State, county and neighboring town police are equipped with their prowl cars with a radio to pick-up broadcasts from the larger centers, Buffalo, for instance, sends out its information now to a dozen villages and to the state troopers on patrol of country roads. In this way and an outer cordon is drawn and the evildoer has one more threat to face.

The practice generally followed by police using the radio-equipped automobiles is to divide the city into tangent beats. Each car works in its outer circle until it receives instructions to follow up a happening within these bounds. If a crime has been committed, the other cars continue to patrol their beats and faster time, leaving the machine on the beat to rush to the spot and pick up the trail at the scene of the crime.

Another View

Buffaloes Commissioner had some interesting remarks in this connection on the criminal and is getaway:

“It is almost impossible for men who have committed a crime to proceed circumspectly while taking a break,” he said. “Involuntarily they put on speed, whether afoot or on wheels. Ordinarily, a policeman thinks little of a car traveling above the legal rate – so many drivers are in a hurry. But if one of our motor squads has information about a felony just committed, it is immediately suspicious of any unusual haste. In the swirl of traffic or in the crowds on the sidewalk, the man in a hurry makes himself conspicuous immediately and he is subject to close scrutiny. Our ability to disseminate information as soon as we get it right’s guilty on the speeding car or hasty feet.”

An intermediate step between the all-around call system and the radio-equipped squad car was taken some time ago by the Baltimore Police Department when it installed the telephone typewriter in all of its police stations and to headquarters. With this method of inter-communication between all police concentration points, and operator at any point can post all districts immediately on the happenings of unusual interest.

The operator sits at a typewriter and writes out the information he or she has on hand. At the same instant the characters form on a sheet in front of him, they appear on typewriters in all police stations. In this way follow up data and corrections can be forwarded to all points at once, while replies and quarries are possible, since an operator at any receiving point may sit at his typewriter and convert his machine into a sending instrument. The Teletype room widely used.

Widely Used

The telephone typewriter idea is being applied throughout the country and many officials believe that eventually the police of the entire country will be linked by this method. New York State has just completed a network by which all police departments in the state and all state police barracks are interlinked by the telephone typewriter. Plans also are being made to connect the system to those of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. This compares with the old custom of sending telegrams helter-skelter by hit or miss means, without the ability to provide full descriptions or follow-up information.

Baltimore now has an efficient inter-district line of communications and the best possible means of reaching its foot patrol. Through Callboxes and recall lights. Commissioner Gaither now is seeking the ultimate in communication – a flying squadron instantly informed and ready to act on anything that may occur.


Baltimore Police Department
242 W. 29th St., Baltimore, MD.
Emergencies: 9-1-1  Non-emergencies: 410-396-2037

Devider color with motto

Again please contact Ret. Det. Kenny Driscoll if you have pictures of you, your family, or other members of the Baltimore Police Department and wish to see them remembered here on this tribute site. We are anxious to honor the fine men and women who have served this fine police department. Ret. Det. Kenny Driscoll can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - Like us on Facebook, or contact us for a mailing address 

Copyright © 2002 Baltimore City Police History - Ret Det Kenny Driscoll


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