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Philadelphia Police Radio System Fails Again

By Wyatt Earp | June 25, 2009

Radio TowersYou know, it doesn’t take a detective to realize that the lifeline of the modern police officer is his or her radio. In Philadelphia, this is especially true, because the department removed the backup radios that were installed in the police vehicles. When the radio system crashes – which happens more often than you’d think – the only way to communicate with other officers is through your cell phone.

And since the city refuses to reimburse us for cell phone usage, a radio outage is very bad news.

So, it was no surprise that I suffered another brain aneurysm when I read this story yesterday:

It happened once again. The city’s $68 million police radio system crashed early Wednesday morning leaving police officers unable to communicate over radio.

The system went down between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. after an entire rack of circuits failed at Verizon’s central communications center rendering eight of the city’s 10 radio towers useless, Philadelphia deputy commissioner of communications Frank Punzo said.

I worked the Last Out (11pm-7am) shift for 11 years. A radio outage between 1am and 3am is a big deal. It is when the bars are letting out, the drunks are on the road, and serious auto accidents are the norm.

City officials and the Fraternal Order of Police are arguing over how severe of an outage occurred. The city says only 20 percent of service was affected while the FOP claims service was non-existent.

“The radio system completely failed leaving our officers unable to communicate,” John McGrod[y] of the Fraternal Order of Police told NBC10’s Lu Ann Cahn.

Wagonsux could verify this, but from what I hear, the system went down citywide.

A backup system did move into operation after the primary failed, Punzo said. City officials credited the backup system with preventing a widespread outage, but the FOP believes the interruption of service shows that the backup is also faulty.

Wednesday’s failure comes on the heels of city council’s approval of a new $34 million contract with Motorola to improve and expand the radio system with a goal of eliminating outages. The funding for the new contract is set to come from the state’s 911 fund.

I ranted about the new Motorola contract HERE, but I should reiterate the lunacy of giving this failing system from a failing company more money.

Of course, the city won’t consider this a priority issue until a police officer is hurt during one of these all-too-common radio outages.

Topics: The Job | 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “Philadelphia Police Radio System Fails Again”

  1. wagonsux Says:
    June 25th, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    I was off this time, but was told the Radio system actually failed twice. After the first failure, cars were sent out with two officers and told to use their personal cell phones if needed. After the second failure officers were ordered to the District Headquarters, and responded only to priority assignments.

    There is a major defect in the (new) Radio system. The Philadelphia Police Radio system is broken up into several geographic ‘bands’. In addition to the geographic bands, there are 3 City wide ‘bands’. One of the City wide bands (J Band) is used , among other things, to simulcast priority assignments over multiple geographic bands if needed. One such priority would be Officer Needs Assistance calls. The problem with the “new” system is, if an officer on the street talks on his radio while J Band is simulcasting, or immediately after, J Band gets hung up and the radio system can crash. This was one of the causes the last several times the system failed. Motorola calls this “user error”. Since this is the way the Philadelphia Police Department has operated since the dawn of time, I would call this a defect in Motorola’s system that MUST be fixed. My understanding it was an Assist Officer call in the 24th District that caused the latest failure.

  2. The Girl You Don't Bring Home to Momma Says:
    June 25th, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    That’s disgraceful – when I hit it big I’m donating equipment that actually works to the men in blue.

  3. Wyatt Earp Says:
    June 25th, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Wagonsux – Thanks for educatin’ the readers in our messes. The amazing thing is that it seems to go out on assist officer calls. Because, you know, why would we need a radio during an ASSIST!!???

    TGYDBHTM – I appreciate the thought, but it’s the city’s mess. they need to clean it up. Sadly, they couldn’t care if we (or the firefighters) live or die, so . . .

  4. Pique Oil Says:
    June 25th, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    SYLG, it won’t change a thing when one of you brave men get hurt. The only time something will change is when a politician or one of theirs gets hurt.
    This is a universal rule that applies throughout the Western world.
    We truly have reached a very sad point in our evolution

  5. Wyatt Earp Says:
    June 25th, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Pique Oil – You are almost certainly correct. The line around my detective division is a familiar one; “To the bosses, we’re just a number.”

  6. AJ Lynch Says:
    June 25th, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Hey Wyatt, I hear SEPTA is gonna spend like $100 Million for a new fare system so passengers can even use their cell phone to pay the bus or train fare [I bet that will work as well as your radio system].

    Maybe the PPD needs to spend another $68 Million to give you guys radios that can be hidden in your shoes or maybe your nightsticks? I know you were always a Get Smart fan. Heh.

  7. Bitter American Says:
    June 26th, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    All thi$ $illine$$ becau$e the city wanted to fix a $y$tem that wa$n’t broken in the fir$t place! And ju$t becau$e they don’t want the bad guy$ to hear what they’re doing?

    I can’t wait for the fir$t ma$$ ca$ualty and the city won’t be able to communicate with Buck$, Che$ter, Montgomery, or Delaware countie$.