Police chief requests funds for radio upgrades

Terry RogersHeadlines, Milford Headline Story, Police & Fire

Chief Cecilia Ashe requested funds to upgrade the police radios currently used by MPD and to add a fourth console in the new police station.

Milford Police Chief Cecilia Ashe recently requested $499,000 from City Council to upgrade the radio communication system used by dispatchers and officers. The current system is almost 20 years old and is in dire need of upgrading.

“In my evaluation going through the department, this is one of the major things that we will need going over to the new facility,” Chief Ashe said. “This was not a ball dropped by anybody, per se. I think it was just something that was thought of later in the game because as we had examples of different construction sites that have been done with DSP none of those actual sites have a communications division within them. So, I don’t think it was something that was thought of in the actual development of the building and that’s to nobody’s specific fault. We’re trying to get to state standards.”

Chief Ashe explained that the current system is nothing more than one radio talking to another and that if the system was to crash or fail, the police department would lose all communication. This would mean they would be unable to dispatch officers for calls nor could officers communicate with each other.

“How to failures happen and how often, well, they can happen at any time. And failures can be something as easy as a lightning strike,” Chief Ashe said. “As I indicated in the memo to city council, this happened in 2012. And at the time, it cost the city approximately, outside of insurance, $132,000 to replace the equipment that was damaged. If that was to occur today, we have no means of replacing the system. Because the system that we have currently is so dated, that there are no supports for that there are no parts that we can order. There’s nothing that we could do. So that’s why this is for me is mission critical.”

In the new police department, there is configuration for four consoles despite the fact that there are currently only two dispatchers. This would allow a seamless shift change. However, under the recommendation of Lou Vitola, Finance Director, it was recommended that the consoles be reduced to three.

“I’m not in disagreement with that,” Chief Ashe said. “However, I did want to present all of the facts to city council on what is the complete need of the of the police department so that you all can make that decision of what is the appropriate amount with the contingency fund that’s available so that I’m not coming back to city council in another year and asking for another terminal. Just putting it on everyone’s radar right now that we’re in need of four of them. And this is something that is through the Delaware State Division of Communication and in conference with them.”

According to one of the directors of the Delaware State Division of Communications likened the current radio system to “a tin can and a shoestring,” Chief Ashe stated. She stated that putting in the four consoles now would be more cost efficient than doing it a few years from now.

“When we look now at the system when I came in, quite honestly, my heart dropped. Because it’s so dated. It almost looks like an Atari screen,” Chief Ashe said. “And so the new screen will be Microsoft so it’s more user friendly. It’s easier to understand.”

Councilman Andy Fulton asked if there was training provided as part of the contract and chief Ashe stated that Motorola provide training to all staff because the system is going to be upgraded.

“We want to try to get certain levels of compliance. Right now, we cannot communicate between other jurisdictions,” Chief Ashe said. “So, for example, if there was a pursuit or something else coming in from another jurisdiction, we would not be able to hear that. And this system would give us the ability to patch those radio calls into one so that we’re communicating on one channel instead of flipping back and forth.”

One of the main reasons Chief Ashe wanted to upgrade the police radios was for officer safety.

“So if an officer is hurt or injured and unable to communicate on their radio, right now, in the current system, the officer can push an alert but what if that officer is incapacitated? With this new system, it will identify the officer and be able to get them assistance and now we will also give you a location,” Chief Ashe said. “There are features in the new radios that can do that with the GPS thing, but that’s an additional feature that you would have to pay for. I’m not as worried about that feature right now just because with the upgrade of these vehicles, we will have GPS in all of the vehicles.”

Councilman Mike Boyle asked if council approved only three consoles and had to add the fourth later, if it would be compatible with the new program. Chief Ashe stated that the department would be asking for a fourth console in the future and that when that occurred, it would be compatible. Councilman Dan Marabello asked if there were any grants available for this type of project.

“Not right now, and just keeping in mind that grant season applications are typically right now, and you’re awarded something to September,” Chief Ashe said. “The importance of me coming before City Council right now is with the equipment and manufacturing. We’re looking at a 30 week delivery date. So that’s why it’s kind of time sensitive to approach it now because you know, we may not see the equipment for up to 30 weeks.”

Councilman Jason James explained that there appeared to be some disconnect along the way as he recalled having specific conversations about the radios that were currently being used.

“I’m not sure it was priority that we do anything with that system, because we were building a new police station. So, it was known that it had to be replaced. I don’t know what happened in between there,” Councilman James said. “But I’m also interested, and I think I read in the information in the record, Lou, I may ask you to chime in here, that there’s an opportunity for leasing. I’d like to know the financial impact or reasons from going from four to three and I’m believing this. We’ll have some contingency funds that are already within the financial picture of this project. So if you could enlighten us I would greatly appreciate it.”

Vitola explained that the lease terms for the radio upgrades were not as bad as other companies offer and that it was budget friendly. He stated that leasing, however, was the third option to cover the cost of the new radios. The first was to use the existing contingency budget, but if council approved all four consoles, it would take the entire contingency fund. The second option was to fund it with the police station, but there is speculation of future costs increasing. That could mean that adding a fourth console might have an impact on purchasing new vehicles or with adding the maintenance building behind the police station that they need for processing evidence. The CIP has many projects that are costly and if council did not want to increase taxes, they may need to eliminate some of the projects, including the fourth police console.

“I just want to say why four consoles, not just three, command and control? Very important aspects of every operation, be it for serious injuries, officer safety,” Councilman Andy Fulton said. “In a way we’re kind of like saying, well let’s hire 10 more police officers but we’re only going to get them three cars. You’re not equipping them to do everything they can. The communication, being able to reach out to other communities, extremely important, especially with the way crime has risen. And with keeping the communication lines open all the way up and down. It will increase the safety of Milford and it will help in the policing of Milford and I would say that doing something like this saves us money in the long run, because the retrofit of adding another console later would just be a hindrance to their operation. And it’d be an increased cost. So, I know that this takes up a lot of the of the contingency fund, but I really think we should consider it because the Milford Police Department last time I checked they only funded out of one area, but they serve the entire community.”

Councilman Todd Culotta agreed that this was an important upgrade and understood Vitola’s explanation on why either using contingency or including the upgrade in the cost of the new police station was better than leasing.

“It helped me in a nutshell understand why the lease option is third because it’s such a long lifespan for this piece of equipment worth,” Councilman Culotta said “Because anytime as a businessperson less money upfront is always good. But I also have done a project and need to know if I’m burning my excess. We’re really putting ourselves at risk when we need something else because the inside of the building is not even done yet, so there’s a lot of risk there. It may even be more long term cost upfront.”

Vitola also explained that although the city has $3.5 million that can still be used toward the new police station, they would need to be careful about leasing having an interest rate higher than five percent and going longer than five years. Currently, the cost of leasing the radio equipment was just over six percent and more than five years. In order to use the lease option, the city would need to go out for referendum for approval.

“I get what you’re saying that makes sense. Because, again, we all have reserves. We all have money in our savings accounts, maybe some of us have debt. We say, “well I can wipe out the debt with all this but then I cleaned myself out and what if I had an emergency come up or something like that” And again, if we were in the fourth quarter of the police station bill, it would be much easier,” Councilman Culotta said. “We’re probably halfway through that, so again, leasing might make more sense. We borrow or finance so we’re not we’re not killing ourselves but then we do get to the end of the project and if we can, we pay it off. I appreciate Lou’s comment that we went to the taxpayer, and they approved $20 million at that rate, that’s fine. We don’t want to touch that unless we absolutely have to, you want to be as judicious and financially supportive as we can building this police station.”

Councilman Fulton pointed out that the inability to contact police departments outside of Milford was a big problem. He recalled that when the state transitioned to 800 MHz radios, they actually had to look at how far into Maryland towers should be in order to have adequate coverage.

“You are asking how long this technology will last, but it’s dated the day you get it,” Councilman Fulton said. “So, and then it’s all up to the software upgrades and everything else. But if we were to do this, we’d be on the same page as the rest of the state. And once you’re on the same page as the state, then you can operate as a state we can then in the future look towards the SAIC because they put out things of grants and monies as time goes forward, to find money to help pay for things in the communications bracket. I mean, there was a whole radio exchange program where they were paying almost half the price of the new radios for your old radios. And that was a big program that was out there for quite some time that’s gone away now but it’s been a few years but there’s programs like that if you’re up to standards, if you’re not up to standards can’t even come to the table.”

Councilman James explained that they could implement the three consoles with current budget constraints and that the fourth could be installed at a later date if funding came available. Council approved the request for three consoles with wiring installed for a fourth that could be added in the future. The vote was unanimous.











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