Area law enforcement agencies get upgraded radio and computer system
If a cop goes to interview someone, he might learn with upgraded technology that their apartment is a suspected meth lab whose residents might have guns.That’s the kind of info an upgraded computer and radio dispatch system could provide to local law enforcement agencies. Before, that nugget of knowledge could have been limited to one agency and gone unnoticed unless other agencies had reason to inquire.The Garfield County dispatch center and area law enforcement agencies have spent about $4 million on computer and radio system upgrades. The Garfield County Emergency Communications Authority (GCECA) in Rifle handles Garfield County’s 911 calls along with dispatching for law enforcement and emergency response.The upgrades are part of a statewide push to link radio sites together to increase communication between agencies. Radios will utilize an 800 megahertz digital trunked signal instead of a VHF signal.”Basically, it’s a statewide system interfaced with many local agencies,” said Carl Stephens, executive director of the GCECA. “If they put up a radio site, we’re also able to use that site. That couldn’t happen in the past on VHF. Deputies would have to switch channels to find the specific site. Now they turn it on one talk-group.”The new radios officers carry cost about $2,500 each and have a “panic” button that can quickly and easily be pressed. Dispatch has more control, and could now remotely shut off a radio that was lost or stolen.Area law enforcement agencies have made the switch. Fire departments plan to make it soon.The upgrades should benefit law enforcement efficiency and safety, but people listening to radio scanners for sport or out of curiosity might be stymied by the changes.To hear anything more than static, they’d have to purchase a new 800 megahertz scanner. Then they could only hear calls out from dispatch. Responses from agencies or individual deputies are encrypted under the new system. Some outgoing dispatch calls could also be encrypted to avoid dispersing certain information, Stephens said. That might include things like which apartment is about to be raided, sensitive personal information, or where bears are eating trash in town.”We have had problems in the past with people listening to scanners,” Stephens said. “Everyone wants to see the bears, so they put their own lives in danger.”Authorities don’t really want suspects tuning in to police activity, either.Stephens wasn’t aware of any law requiring government radio communications to be unencrypted, but he said there has been some opposition in other parts of the country. He hasn’t heard of any opposition to encrypted radio communications locally.The 800 megahertz radios should provide a better signal. The computer upgrades deal with sharing data and records countywide.”If someone is arrested in Parachute, the other agencies could see that,” Stephens said.The dispatch center made the switch on June 26, and law enforcement agencies are still receiving training to for the updated systems, he added. Stephens said the radio and computer upgrades have cost about $4 million. Funds mostly came from grants like a state energy impact grant and a homeland security grant. He said there’s about another half million still needed to go toward maintenance of the system.Agencies were required to be on certain channels due to physics and the geography of the region. But now they can be spread more evenly among different channels, Stephens said.”We’re trying to be able to accomplish a lot more without having to add 10 new dispatchers,” he added.”If the system evolves and does what it’s supposed to do for us it will be a really, really important advance in a lot of areas,” said Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson. “It should improve our overall communication ability and our ability get and receive information quickly, and it should create a filing system, if you will, of local information for law enforcement agencies.”Contact Pete Fowler: 945-8515, ext. 16611 firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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