Body armor, ballistics helmets, eye protection, breaching shield: millions of dollars and months of evolution spent to protect our officers. Truly the best use of limited budget dollars. Unfortunately, it falls short of protecting one of the most under-rated senses SWAT operators have at their disposal…their hearing. One gunshot can acoustically disable an officer instantaneously. Far subtler is the constant noise that officers are exposed to that degrade hearing over the course of a career, reducing that officer’s tactical effectiveness while on duty, and creating long-term hearing loss for life after their duty ends. For little additional investment, law enforcement leadership has the ability eliminate this eventuality.
Technology is now readily available in communication headsets that provides hearing protection while enhancing the officer’s surrounding. These technologies integrate small external speakers that enhance the surrounding “ambient” sounds to provide 360-degree situational awareness to the officer. Using a series of electronic filters as these sounds approach dangerous levels, the system compresses noise –impulse noise like gunfire, and continuous noise like rotor wash–or cuts it off to protect the officer’s hearing. These technologies are very mature. They were developed for military applications and have been adapted to the law enforcement application. The combination of communications, hearing protection, and hearing enhancement absolutely improve the SWAT operators capabilities while providing them the confidence that their sense of hearing will remain throughout the course of their duty. Whether it be circumaural “muffs” or in-the-ear “buds”, these systems need to be a forethought, not an afterthought, when considering the essential tactical gear for SWAT operators.