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HRCSO looking to squelch radio issues

Spotty service raises safety concerns

Interference, poor signal strength, and lack of service altogether are plaguing local law enforcement radio systems and the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office is trying to figure out why.

Earlier this week, Hood River County Commissioners gave direction to Sheriff Matt English to pursue obtaining the services of an engineering firm to perform a comprehensive evaluation of the county’s radio system and try to determine the source of and solutions to the radio problem.

English told commissioners on Monday during their regular monthly meeting that problems with maintaining radio contact have gotten “progressively worse” throughout his law enforcement career.

“We’ve had some radio issues ongoing for years and things just seem to be compounding with the law enforcement system to the point where we’re really concerned about safety issues and stuff like that,” he said.

The county uses multiple transmission sites for their radio service, including Middle Mountain, Augspurger Mountain, and Underwood Mountain, which English said was the main site used by dispatch. English believed the increasing number of service providers using the tower could be a source of the problem.

“One of the issues we’re having there is the site has become so commercialized in the last few years that there are a lot of entities up there right now and our radio tech doesn’t even know who all is up there,” he explained. “So we think some of our interference is coming from that.”

English reported the service problems were bad enough that “dispatch always has to have units repeat traffic and they can’t hear or get out half the time.” He added that the problems extend to the city police radios as well, noting officers with the Hood River Police Department “can hardly talk” on their portable radios and that there were “very notable issues with our portables everywhere in the county.”

Service is so bad at times that English said he has line of sight to Underwood Mountain from his office located in the Hood River County Courthouse, but can’t communicate on his radio.

“I can sit in my office and see Underwood and on my portable radio I can’t get out some days,” he said. “Our communications in the courthouse are literally non-existent. We can hear dispatch, but we can’t talk back to them, typically.”

Below his office in the courthouse basement, English said sheriff’s deputies “can’t hear anything” on their radios.

To seek answers to the issues, HRCSO is pursuing an evaluation of their radio system by ADCOMM, a public safety communications and engineering firm from the Seattle metro area. The proposed scope of work includes the evaluation of the transmitters, law enforcement radio equipment, measurement of noise at radio sites, determination of where coverage problems exist, development of coverage prediction maps, evaluation of potential additional radio sites and other solutions.

The evaluation is projected to cost $29,500, but English said it’s better to do the study instead of “adding zeroes” to a project that may not solve the problem. He suggested the problem could be that “some things are just out of tune” and minor tweaks could resolve the issue. English said one piece of equipment he did not think was responsible for the radio issues were the repeaters used by law enforcement to retransmit the signals, noting that “most are not more than a few years old.”

While officers and deputies struggle with the signal quality from their radios, English reported local fire departments use a different simulcast system and “seem to have a pretty good signal from everywhere.” Tying into that system could be a solution, but one that could also cost upwards of $100,000.

Whatever might be causing the problem, commissioners agreed it needed to be resolved and that English should move forward with the study.

“I think this whole thing is a necessary evil,” Commission Chair Ron Rivers told English at the meeting. “This thing needs to get ironed out. You can’t operate this way.”

English reported ADCOMM could start the work as early as next month and have it completed within 90 days.

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