Victoria Police – The Birth of the Wireless Patrol
Even in the 1900’s communication methods were still primitive as police could only summon assistance by blowing a whistle or rapping a truncheon on a pavement. Beat patrol police had only one link with their station via a street telephone, with a call every thirty minutes to the station to receive or send crime messages. As expected, long delays were experienced in using this system. Inveitably offenders had decamped by the time an officer arrived at the scene of the crime.
Clearly communications methods needed improvement and it was not unitl the introduction of patrol cars in 1920 that the beginnings of our present day communications system occurred.
Constable Fred Downie, an enterprising member of a patrol sqaud, contemplated the use of the infant “wireless radio” for patrol work.
With the assistance of Amalgamated Wireless Australia (AWA) and the co-operation of the then Chief Commissioner, Mr. Nicholson, Constable Downie sought to test the possibility of reliable wireless communications.
A receiving set was installed in Patrol Car 1 on October 31, 1922, using the Domain Wireless Station (VIM) as the transmitter for testing. Note all transmissions were in morse code.
Finally, one evening in November 1922, Chief Commissioner Nicholson, Superintendent Potter (in charge of Criminal Investigation Branch) and senior detectives, drove the 15 miles to the south of Melbourne to establish the feasibility of Constable Downie’s idea.
Prior to leaving Russell Street Police Headquarters, Nicholson had arranged that certain messages, the texts of which were known only to himself, be transmitted to the test car at certain intervals.
At 3.15am the following message was received by the car:-
“Please get in touch with the C.I. Branch immediately”
Three minutes later the car was at a police station and in touch with Russell Street. Without the wireless radio it would have been 4am before the patrol would have been in touch with the C.I.D.
The era of effective police communication had begun, with the Victoria Police accomplishing a world first.
The May 1923 edition of “Radio” heralded the arrival of police communications with the following words:
“The equipment of the Police patrol car in Melbourne with a radio receiving set is unquestionable evidence that the police authorities in Australia recognise the tremendous assistance they will receive by utilising this newest system of communication in tracking down evil doers. As a record of what has been accomplished to date, and a forecast of what may come in the future, police radio is both interesting and valuable. It will help materially to educate the general public to a realisation of what radio telephony may accomplish in the future and it will likewise impress the police authorities with the wisdom of keeping right up to date in their criminal catching methods.”
As communications improved, efficiency increased and the gap between the detection and apprehension of offenders narrowed.
The message flow in the early days was one way – crime complaints were telephoned to Domain Station VIM for broadcast to cars.
Poor reception of voice transmissions resulted in the introduction of morse transmissions in May, 1923.
Then in August, 1926, a two kilowatt transmitter was installed at the Russell Street barracks and Victoria Police had their first car fitted with two way radio, the first of many.
World War II involved the necessity for co-ordination of emergency services in the interests of national security, so the Victoria Police were charged with this responsibility.
As a result, on Sunday, December 5, 1939, the “D24” communications complex was commissioned.
Originally the complex was to be in Corridor D, Room 23, but this was shifted to room 24 and the name D24 stuck.
Communications services are now provided by civilian operators employed by the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA) however many calltakers, dispatchers and members of the public still refer to the Police Communications Centre as “D24”.
Morse to Voice and HF to VHF
In 1940 morse radio transmissions were replaced by telephony, co-inciding with the opening of the 10 storey Russell Street Police Headquarters.
The tower on the roof of the new building carried the aerials for many transmitters, including the main 2 kilowatt transmitter. Initial transmissions were on the broadcast band using Amplitude Modulation (AM),not only providing reliable communications but also enabling the general public to listen to police transmissions on their domestic receivers.
By 1957 transmissions had shifted to the Very High Frequency (VHF)band, with the general public not having the luxury of being able to listen to police transmission any more. This, of course, would change in the late 1970’s when an influx of American broadband radio equipment would allow the general public to once again “eavesdrop” on police and other emergency service transmissions.
In 1955 a single VHF channel was used, expanding to three in 1974, later to become 10. Channels were allocated according to geographic areas and assigned “letters”.
In October, 1959, a new “D24” control room was established on the 6th floor at Russell Street Headquarters. The VHF network was supplemented by a High Frequency (HF) interstate network using Morse Code, a service initiated in 1941 with Queensland and West Australian police forces, in 1948 with the South Australian and New South Wales forces and in 1950 with Tasmania Police.
Wireless telegraphy remained the sole interstate radio link until the introduction of the telex system in 1967. The HF radio network became a secondary backup at that time.