Police radio at dead end
June 10, 2008 · Updated 6:16 PM
Poulsbo People expect that when they call their local police in an emergency that they will receive a quick response.
But they may not, and that has local law enforcement worried about the future.
For years, Poulsbo Police Department officers have been dispatched from one radio channel called the Tri-City frequency that serves Poulsbo, Bainbridge Island, North Kitsap Sheriffs department staff and tribal law enforcement in the area. The only other two channels in the area are held by the rest of the Kitsap County Sheriffs Office, Port Orchard and Bremerton and can be used by Tri-City agencies on rare occasions. Poulsbo Chief Jeff Doran said the three frequencies used to serve the area well, but in recent years growing populations and increased incidents have meant channels are sometimes jammed with noise. Officers and dispatchers sometimes have difficulty reaching each other, even during an emergency, which Doran says causes undo stress on both.
Its kind of another example of the county has grown and changed and the infrastructure hasnt grown to meet that, Doran said.
The absence of a tactical frequency for the area also contributes to the problem. Doran said many other agencies use special channels to communicate during a drawn-out emergency to allow free communication for everyone else.
In contrast, local agencies must request one of the three channels be emergency traffic only in a heightened situation, meaning the channel is closed to other communication.
A couple of weeks ago Bainbridge Island was serving a warrant and it was a major enough event that they asked all communication on the Tri-City frequency be emergency only, at the same time a young woman started having a psychotic episode in downtown Poulsbo... .It wasnt dispatched to our officers until the situation on Bainbridge was over, Doran said.
Poulsbo City Council member Jim Henry said he was surprised when Doran told him about the radio frequency problem. Having served in the Navy for 31 years, he said he worries about the ability of the system to handle a catastrophic emergency.
We wouldnt let a ship sail under these conditions of not being able to communicate with others, Henry observed. Nobody can break in, you have to wait for someone to stop talking or pause before you can speak on the channel. They need to be able to communicate and they cant do it, not with any certainty at least.
More disturbing, said Henry is that getting extra frequencies isnt something an municipality can just go out and do. All frequencies are handled by the federal government and at the moment the Canadian government has first pick of any new frequencies if and when theyre brought on line. Several years ago a proposed levy failed to hold water with the voters in a move to assign all local law enforcement to a 800 MHZ trunked radio system through Cencom that would have added 6-8 channels. Doran said since then the problem has only gotten worse, and all he hopes for now is a solution.
Id like to see us have the frequencies so we can do what we need to do, Doran said I dont care what kind of a magic wand we wave over this, I just want us to do it soon.
Despite a seemingly hopeless fight for more channels, Henry brought the issue up to the City Council this month and the councils public safety/legal committee has agreed to put the issue on its legislative priorities for the coming year. Henry also hopes to soon meet with Congressman Jay Inslee about lobbying for some sort of change.
It hasnt happened yet, but when it does its going to bite us, Henry said. To stick our heads in the sand and say theres nothing that can be done is not the way to go.