Deciding on the Best Two-Way Radio to Use for Law Enforcement Officers

Upon graduation from the police academy, law enforcement officers take an oath to protect and serve the public. In carrying out this oath, police officers frequently encounter dangerous situations that require quick action, and reliable communications equipment goes a long way in keeping the officer safe and aware while they neutralize the threat.

This article explores radio communication in the context of law enforcement and provides a framework to help officers in choosing the best radio to fit their needs and department. With so many brands and models out there, it can be overwhelming choosing the right option.

Our goal is to present a concise guide so you can make a solid decision. To begin, here’s a summary of the most important factors to consider:

  1. Radio System Compatibility
  2. Project 25
  3. Required Options Needed with the Radio
  4. Required Accessories Needed with the Radio

1. Radio System Compatibility

The first thing you’ll need to consider when deciding which radio to purchase is figuring out which system is used by your department so you can have the smoothest interoperability.

For example, your department might be using the Motorola Smartnet Trunking System or the EDACS (Enhanced Digital Access Communications System) from L3Harris. To ensure that your radio is compatible and integrates with your department’s system, you must know what system is used.

Perhaps the most useful online resource for radio operators in law enforcement, www.radioreference.com includes a database of information for state and local institutions and the systems they are under.

On this page, you can search trunked radio information, FCC data, if your department has made any recent changes, and much more. This can give you enough information to make a checklist in choosing which radio will best integrate with your system.

You’ll also benefit from checking if your department plans on making changes to their communications system. The best way to accomplish this is to contact your department’s procurement office and request that info.

2. Project 25

Project 25, or P25 for short, was started in 1989 by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) to ensure interoperability between two-way radios for first responders and address the demand for digital radios for public safety officials. P25 has been able to streamline communication for law enforcement and firefighters and is used in over 53 countries today.

Project 25 compliant radios are divided into two phases, Phase 1 and Phase 2. Each of these trunking phases enable law enforcement professionals to upgrade their radios depending on their needs.

P25 Phase 1

  • Uses a continuous level 4 FM modulation
  • Operates on a 12.5 kHz digital mode as opposed to a 25 kHz channel, providing twice the number of available channels previously available
  • Can use the same bandwidth as a narrow band FM channel

P25 Phase 2

  • More efficient than P25 Phase 1
  • Two channels per 12.5 kHz bandwidth
  • Two voice channels per base station
  • Longer two-way battery life
  • Backwards compatible with Phase 1 radios

Note: Phase 2 is only available for trunked P25 systems, as it is still developing. For conventional radio to radio operations, P25 is most widely used.

Unfortunately, Project 25 has one drawback in interoperability. P25 was intended to create a universal network where all two-way radio would be cross-compatible.

Large companies involved in this such as Motorola, Kenwood, and Harris benefit when they control what radios are used by departments, so they purposely designed features into their radios such as Time-Division Multiple Access (TDMA). TDMA is a channel access method for shared-medium networks, allowing users to share the same frequency channel by dividing the signal into different time slots.

There is a catch though – these features only tend to work when using subscribe units or two-way radios that are made by the company that designed the radio system.

For this reason, you definitely need to figure out your department’s radio system before purchasing.

3. Single Band vs. Dual Band

An important decision to make in this process is whether you need a single band or a dual band radio. In general, a dual band radio is most common among police officers but in some cases a single band radio will do.

The primary difference between the two is that dual band radios enable you to use both VHF and UHF frequencies, and a dual band often costs a couple hundred dollars more than a single band radio.

Which one best fits your needs is dependent on the area you are in. For example, in an area with many repeaters, a VHF single band radio should work fine while a dual band would be the top option in areas with less coverage.

Below we’ve included a sample of popular radios in each category as well as their features and operating modes.

Harris XG-25 (Single Band)

Harris XG-25

Features:

  • High-Tier Audio Comparable to that of the XG-75p
  • Advanced Features Including AES/DES Encryption, OTAR, and Bluetooth®
  • Enhanced Audio Quality by AMBE+2 Vocoder
  • Lightweight Design
  • Meets MIL Standard for Durability
  • Available in VHF, UHF-L, 700/800 MHz

Motorola APX 4000 (Single Band)

Motorola APX 4000

Operating Modes:

  • P25 Phase 1 & 2 Trunking
  • P25 Digital Conventional
  • Conventional Analog
  • EDACS® and ProVoice™
  • OpenSky®

Features:

  • IP67 Standard
  • Meets MIL Standard for Durability
  • Lightbar with Intelligence Lighting
  • Radio Profiles
  • Available in 700/800 MHz, VHF, UHF R1, UHF R2, and 900 MHz Bands

Operating Modes:

  • Analog MDC-1200 & Digital APCO P25 Conventional
  • Clear or Digital Encrypted ASTRO®25 Trunked Operation
  • Capable of SmartZone®, SmartZone Omnilink, SmartNet®

Harris XL-200p (Multiband)        

Harris XL-200p

Features:

  • Meets MIL Durability Standards
  • Built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth®, and GPS Sensitivity
  • Secure Voice and Data Encryption
  • Advanced Noise Cancellation
  • Supports VHF, UHF, and 700/800 MHz Bands

Operating Modes:

  • AT&T and Verizon Certified and FirstNet Ready®
  • Optional Cell Modem for Voice and Data wherever Cellular/LTE are available
  • LTE Ready out of the Box
  • P25 Standard Tier 2 and L3Harris in-band

Motorola APX 6000 (Multiband)

Motorola APX 6000

Features:

  • Radio Profiles
  • Supports VHF, UHF R1, UHF R2, and 700/800 MHz Bands
  • Intelligent Lighting
  • IP68 Rating

Operating Modes:

  • Analog MDC-1200 and QCII
  • Digital P25
  • Conventional or Trunked
  • SmartNet®/SmartZone®

4. Recommended Radio Accessories in Law Enforcement

Along with your radio, you’ll likely need to purchase accessories for enhanced capabilities. One of the most critical accessories for all two-way radio users is a reliable battery. Many law enforcement officers carry a secondary battery with them in their vehicles as a precaution for unexpected battery failures, long shifts, and charging mishaps.

With this in mind, another popular accessory used by police are in-vehicle chargers. Most officers have been in a stakeout and understand the long hours in their police cruiser. By having a charger handy, as well as a backup battery, your radio will be powered all night long.

On the communication side, a speaker microphone is another essential accessory on the job. An officer needs to be able to relay messages quickly, and it can be cumbersome pulling your radio out for every communication.

With speaker microphones, you’ll be able to communicate with dispatch easily. When choosing a speaker microphone, be sure to look for a high Ingress Protection (IP) rating to protect against the various elements an officer frequently deals with.

For covert communications, a two-way radio surveillance kit enables quiet, discreet communication which can be a necessity in these operations. 3-wire surveillance kits like those from Waveband Communications are recommended because they are durable and provide the best quality.

Where to Purchase These Radios & Accessories

For Harris models, you can purchase some of the top models for police at First Source Wireless with all the options you need, including:

  • Harris XG-100p Full Spectrum Multiband Portable Radio
  • Harris XG-25p Two-Way Portable Radio
  • Harris XG-75 Multimode Portable Radio
  • Harris P7300 Multimode Portable Radio

Regarding accessories, you’ll find everything you need at Waveband Communications from chargers to batteries and surveillance earpieces. They carry nearly every accessory for brands such as Motorola, Harris, Kenwood, and more, all OEM equivalent.

Radio communication is important for law enforcement, whether you are doing a routine patrol or a SWAT raid, you need constant communication with dispatch and fellow officers to keep yourself and your partners safe on the job.

Deciding what radio to purchase is an arduous process with many variables. It all comes down to researching the system used by your department, and the area you plan on operating. There is no “one size fits all” radio for law enforcement officers, so you’ll need to factor in your individual circumstances to find a match.

We hope this guide was able to give you insight into the criteria you’ll need to consider in your decision, and if you’ve already decided then head over to Waveband Communications or First Source Wireless to secure your radio or accessories today!

Want more guidance on choosing the right two-way radio for your needs? Take our quiz today and we’ll help you narrow down your choices!

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