Saturday, May 25, 2002

Statewide police radio system gets trial run this weekend

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — A new communications system ultimately designed to link law enforcement agencies statewide starts a trial run this weekend.

        State Highway Patrol posts in Circleville, Delaware and West Jefferson will be the first units to use the Multi-Agency Radio Communications System — a $328 million, 800-megahertz digital communication network.

        Thirteen central Ohio counties will be linked to the system by July 4. By year's end, it also will include a global positioning system to track and dispatch troopers and in-car mobile-data terminals from which troopers can check driver's licenses and criminal records.

        The radio network will link 11 state agencies, including state prisons and juvenile detention facilities, and some county and local law-enforcement agencies. Completion is scheduled for late 2004. Some state prisons, including the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville, already are using the system.

        The program has been criticized in the last few years as its cost increased from its original $175 million estimate to $328 million, including the cost of dozens of communication towers around the state.

        Sen. Eric Fingerhut, D-Cleveland, a frequent critic of the project, has tried several times to block funding for the system, most recently in a failed attempt to pull $143 million from its current budget. Lawmakers cut $1.4 million instead.

        Mr. Fingerhut said the system's test run was “a big PR show ... to argue this project is on track.”

        “They're staging this show over the Memorial Day weekend to try to counter what they know is a growing sentiment in the Legislature to rethink this project,” he said.

        Darryl Anderson, the system's administrator, said the project is under budget in central Ohio, including the heart of the system in the state's computer center at Ohio State University.

        “We're working to make it as great a deal for taxpayers as possible,” Mr. Anderson said.

        He said the state could recoup some costs by allowing county and municipal police, fire and emergency medical agencies to hook into the system for a fee.

        The patrol's superintendent, Col. Kenneth L. Morckel, said the system would make troopers feel much safer.

        “Troopers today, and for many years, have worked in areas of the state with 60 to 70 percent radio coverage. Many times they pick up the radio and there's nobody at the other end of the mike,” he said.


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