YPD exploring radio options

By Joe Gorman

and David Skolnick

news@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The city police department is working on changing radio systems this year.

Chief Robin Lees said the cost to replace the department’s old analog system with a new microwave radio setup is estimated to be about $800,000, with an extra estimated $400,000 if the fire department is thrown in as well.

If the new system is replaced, the department will join a growing list of area police and fire departments that use the new system including Austintown, Boardman, Campbell and Canfield.

That system also has an option for encryption, which would mean radio traffic would be inaccessible to the public without a special receiver that could receive the encrypted signals. Lees said estimates for individual radios are more than $3,000.

Lees stressed repeatedly that there is no concrete plan in place to replace the old system, saying the city is exploring several options. He said he would like to make the switch within six months and no later than a year.

Typically, media outlets monitor police scanners for police or fire calls that have the potential to become breaking news. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has not issued any formal opinions on dispatch encryption. Representatives from the office have said, however, that real-time dispatch communication likely does not meet the definition of a public record, unlike a recording of a 911 call.

Lees said the system needs to be replaced because it is aging, and the microwave system offers improved coverage, especially when officers are in a building. Lees said the city’s radio system works well throughout the city, but there are occasions when officers are inside a building and they have trouble with their portable radios.

He said with other area departments using the microwave system, they now have the capability to “talk” to each other much easier than they would with the old system.

Lees said he has not decided if he would push for the encryption option. He said he wants to get the radio system first before he makes that decision.

As for the money, Lees said several proposals have been discussed, including perhaps bond financing or using some of the money raised from the traffic cameras in the city.

Also, the city would save money by no longer paying AT&T for maintenance on the copper lines that are used by the present 911 system, which he said is $374,000 annually and has increased by 167 percent since 2014. One proposal is to use the money budgeted to pay for the upkeep of the lines to pay for the new radio system.

Lees stressed those are merely options and no final plans are set.

Mayor John A. McNally said he has no issue with the police and fire departments going to an encrypted radio system if that’s what Lees decides to use.

“If it’s what the chief wants, I support it,” McNally said. “The chief is looking for a system that will benefit the department the most. I’m comfortable with the chief’s judgment on this. Most communities have gone to that system.”

McNally said he’s sensitive to the needs of the local media to monitoring police-scanner traffic.

“If we need to work something out for the media to be advised, we will do that,” he said. “The chief can work out what’s helpful for the media.”

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