Danville says radio issues with sheriff’s office will be worked out eventually

Published 7:40 pm Monday, December 17, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories highlighting discussions during a recent Danville City Commission/management team retreat where staff met to outline goals and objectives for the coming year.

The issue of Danville Police and the Boyle Sheriff’s Office not being on the same radio frequency came up again, this time during last week’s city commission and management team retreat.

As the group completed its talk about the city’s top achievements of the past year, Commissioner Rick Serres inquired about communications with the sheriff’s office.

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Recently, Sheriff Derek Robbins was asked by Boyle County magistrates during a fiscal court meeting why the city hasn’t shared its new frequency with his office. The police department is operating on a new frequency due to upgrades made when the 911 center was relocated into the basement of city hall.

“I know there’s a concern with us getting on the same frequency with them. Has that been resolved?” Serres asked.

City Manager Ron Scott said the answer to that is “multi-faceted and complex. He said the City of Danville owns the license for the radio used by the city and county, but permits the county to use the frequency, and that the funding for it is not part of the local 911 service agreement.

The county has traditionally paid the cost of the radio repeaters (installation, repairs and replacement, for example) outside of the city limits, and the city has paid the cost of the repeaters inside the city limits. Funds collected by the state for the cell phone tax used to maintain and upgrade the 911 communication system, Scott said, may — by regulation — only be spent for equipment inside the 911 center, and may not be used to purchase radios or cover the cost of installing, repairing or replacing radio towers or repeaters.

The city and county each pay for the costs associated with radios, towers and repeaters out of their general fund budgets.

“Under all those distribution of funds, those are funds for broadcasting that system, for receipt of the system. The county has been responsible for maintaining their transmission towers and their repeaters. It begs the question, however, of is there a better way of providing radio transmissions in the county,” Scott said. He said the city probably should take the lead role in terms of funding all of the necessary infrastructure to do that, both within and outside of the city, “as we are the central hub of that communication.”

After the meeting, Scott clarified that he has not discussed this with the county as of yet, but wanted to broach the topic during the retreat as a possible way to best provide the service in a coordinated and comprehensible way. “My thought was that the city develop a user agreement similar to that adopted for 911 dispatch. That would allow for administration, planning, provision of the service throughout the county — and the users could pay a share of the cost in manner similar to that currently used for dispatch. Protocols of radio transmission, operation, etc., could be reduced to writing to more clearly define service levels, with a ‘user advisory committee’ also appointed to deal with use or technical issues.”

During the retreat, Scott reminded the group that the sheriff does have use of the standard channel.

“They also have the ability to go to an aux channel that we can’t hear either, for example,” Scott said. He said if there is a major event, the 911 center “has the immediate opportunity to painlessly link everyone in the county to hear all activities.”

He said the issue of hearing-in for officer safety begins primarily at the city level.

“We have our own officers who are out there doing events, and we need to have the ability not to have their activities broadcast inappropriately or listened in inappropriately. So safety begins with our own officers, as well as the county officers. So the issue is complex,” Scott said.

Chief Tony Gray said the main frequency they are using is still in the testing phase.

“We’ve had some equipment issues … two weeks prior to Thanksgiving, our new frequency was done for a whole week. We’re trying to test it and get it functioning on the level it needs to be. Right now, we’re still making sure it operates inside the city functionally. We’ve had some issues with it, and communicated that with the county and the sheriff’s office,” Gray said.

Gray said he doesn’t feel people realize what it takes to relocate the 911 center’s operation, which was moved into the basement of city hall.

“And just to implement it all, to get ready for the next generation,” he said, referring to the initiative to update the emergency service infrastructure in the wireless world. “And to implement the EMD (emergency medical dispatch). Not only did we do all those things, but we got a whole new CAD (computer-aided dispatch) system. So dispatch has been learning a whole, brand new system from the one they were operating with. The phone system is totally revamped … We did a lot moving dispatch.”

“It’s not going to be that we’ll move to the new frequency and switch, and everybody’s going to be ready to go,” Gray continued. “We knew that, and we’ve told them that. It’s always been our plans to make sure they were able to receive that frequency once it’s operating fully.

“And really … we moved in on July 18, it’s not even been six months. And we just brought the county fire’s new frequency on board, too.”

Nick Warren, the city’s IT director, said there were issues with that as well, which forced them to “stop and revamp how we communicate in order to solve their communication issues.”

“The other thing in this whole issue, the guiding vision was to provide the most effective, efficient delivery of services within the corporate boundaries of the City of Danville — what’s best for the city,” City Attorney Stephen Dexter said.

Dexter said the county elected to “share our services, or to contract our services, and that’s an important role that the city has.” He said just as the city is a regional provider of utilities, it can be a regional provider of dispatch services on a contractual basis, with the first emphasis being the corporate boundaries — or city limits.

“So what I think the chief is getting at, and what Ron is saying is we’re establishing that we’re still young, but establishing that we’re making it the best it can be within the corporate boundaries, and then we’ll focus on the contractual arrangements … It takes time,” Dexter said. He said the main thing is to implement the best services in the city, and make sure the contractual services are “delivered as agreed upon. But this is the city’s system. We need to maintain that and make sure it works effectively for us, and then contract with it.”

Gray said it’s a huge undertaking, to “create an infrastructure for the future, for the region.” He said they are working hard to implement something can sustain operations if, down the road, they do become a regional provider.

“That’s good information to have,” Serres said. “And again, that’s been sort of the basis of today’s meeting, misinformation by some people. ‘Why did we spend the money to do something and it’s not happening.’”

Gray said shortly after the first of year, “hopefully we can get some things lined out. But what we’ve done in the last six months is a huge, huge benefit moving forward.”