Federal funds to advance radio system

Published 9:51 am Friday, March 4, 2011

A Department of Justice grant will bring $300,000 into the county with the goal of upgrading the radio systems of the sheriff’s office and 911.

The funding will come from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and will pay for 20 mobile radios to be put in deputy cruisers, 18 portable radios for deputies and two stationary console radios for the 911 dispatching office. All will use the statewide MARCS or Multi Agency Radio Communications System.

“This will provide better communication for law enforcement and EMS in the county,” Lonnie Best, 911 director, said. “This is for more precise, clearer transmission and will allow for intercommunication between vehicles from one end of the county to the other. The portables will allow officers to call for assistance while standing at the site. They won’t have to run back to the vehicle.”

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This system also has the capability to transmit on the Legacy System used by all fire departments, making it a backup for those agencies.

Best had applied for the funds over a two-year period through then U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson’s office, seeking $150,000 each year. The grants were combined into one.

Right now the sheriff’s office only uses MARCS for backup or confidential communications.

“It has been the hope and goal across the nation and especially the state to phase out the high-band radios and have everybody on a MARCS system,” Sheriff Jeff Lawless said. “It is a little more secure and it provides a lot better coverage. I can sit in Ironton and talk to people in Cleveland. If I needed extra help or resources, I could talk with sheriffs across the state and locally it provides better communication.”

However, MARCS requires a $20 service fee per radio per month.

“There is a little bit of cost by going to this high-tech radio,” Lawless said. “On the safety standpoint and for better operation, it will benefit. Now we have to come up with the funds to pay for the service fee. We will definitely move that way, but keep our old radios in operation.”

Commissioner Jason Stephens sees the upgrade as cost-effective in the long run. Recently a radio tower had to be repaired at a cost of $8,500.

“With the system getting older and we get free radios that work extremely well, even with the cost of paying that fee, is much less than buying a whole new radio system,” Stephens said.