Danville police chief: Numerous radio issues nearly resolved

Published 7:47 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2019

During a recent 911 Advisory Committee meeting, Danville Police Chief Tony Gray told officials the new, improved 911 center, now located in city hall’s basement, has come a long way.

“We’ve made a lot of progress; we got dispatch moved, started using EMD (emergency medical dispatch) … fire and police both created a new channel …” Gray explained. “Just in the last year, we’ve done a lot of upgrades in radio infrastructure in the county as a whole. And we’ve done an exceptional job … It’s something that’s needed to be done for 20 years.”

Gray also discussed one of the major issues that’s been played out publicly for several months — the fact that since the police department has switched its frequency on the new system, the sheriff’s office is no longer able to communicate with them.

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As of now, deputies can listen in on the police department’s channel, but if they want to communicate with an officer, they must radio dispatch to get the message to them.

Last year, the sheriff’s office purchased new radios for around $25,000, in order to be on the same frequency with the police department. However, it wasn’t as easy as just “flipping over a switch” to get the job done, Gray has said.

Several issues have been and are being worked through, Gray said. There were phone-system issues that had to be ironed out; next-generation improvements in order to update the whole infrastructure as it relates to the wireless world; implementation of EMD; and installation of an entirely new CAD (computer-aided dispatch), for example.

The police department even had to go back to its old frequency for a bit late last year due to issues with the new system, Gray said. But now, he thinks all of that is close to being dealt with.

It was discovered some of the radio repeaters — a combination of a receiver and transmitter that gets the signals out in order for the radios to cover longer distances — had time-clocks that were off just slightly from one another. All four repeaters must be set up exactly the same in order to work properly.

“The time-clocks were off just a bit, which makes the transmission garbled,” Gray said.

He said with the new setup, they are trying to create a foolproof frequency that can be used county-wide.

“Then, once everybody sees how our system is set up, all they have to do is mirror ours and we’ll all be able to communicate,” Gray said. Right now, there are certain “dead spots” throughout the county, especially in more rural areas, like Forkland.

“If Derek and them are on the Fork right now, they have to switch over to another channel so they can communicate,” Gray said.

Sheriff Derek Robbins, who was also present at the meeting, pulled out his radio to explain. “I may have to go to the SO Perryville repeater, or the courthouse’s,” he said, while switching his handheld radio to different channels set up with those names. “If I’m getting shot at, I don’t have time to direct people to switch to another channel. It just gives you more coverage and less things to worry about when you’re in trouble.”

With the old frequency, Gray said the police department was picking up quite a lot of interference, which had been happening for years. A few years back, there was some interference originating from the hospital due to new equipment it had installed. Other interference had come from a local radio station, when it broadcast weekly from locations in town.

“We had no clue why it was happening, but knew it was always happening at certain times on Friday. Then one time, we heard Charlie Perry — we were like what’s Charlie Perry doing over our radio,” Gray said, and laughed. “Those are just a few examples of things you have to deal with working with frequencies.”

None of these interference issues will happen with the new system, Gray said.

More recently, Gray’s department found some issues were coming from cruiser antennas.

“As we’re setting this frequency up, to make sure it goes all the way through the whole county, we found some problems with officers not able to hear each other,” he said. “We found out that if cars were stacked, one right behind the other, the front vehicle could talk to dispatch, but the others couldn’t.” He said this was due to some issues with the antennas on the cars, and new ones are on the way now.

Gray said when the new central fire station is constructed next door to Danville City Hall, the radio tower — which is now located behind the fire station across the street — will be relocated “over here, more near city hall and the new station. Most people don’t even know it’s there. It’s 100 feet tall, goes from ground up. It’s the central repeater and will be moved over to our side of the street.” He said it will be “a taller tower, and puts us up above the hospital.”

Robbins said when enacted, the new frequency will do nothing but aid the two agencies in helping one another.

“We will still operate off the SO frequency, and we can use the other channels as back up, but wouldn’t operate off of them. I can scan (the police department’s) frequency, and say, ‘Oh, shoot, Danville’s in pursuit; I can set out spikes,’ for example,” Robbins said.

“I think, really, the biggest misconception by maybe citizens and different government bodies in the city and county is that we merely flip a switch after paying for this equipment, and then it’s all done,” Gray said. “I wish that’s how it was, but it’s nothing close to it. There’s so many things that have to be in perfect sync with one another, and we’re not bringing anyone else onto it until we have everything lined out, ready to go and working efficiently.”