By Paul D. Jakubson, Chief of Police, Madison, Connecticut; Chairman, Connecticut Police Chiefs Association Technology and Communications Committee; and Member of the IACP Communications and Technology Committee
municipal police officer on a day shift responds to a suspicious-vehicle complaint in a residential neighborhood. Before the officer can arrive at the scene, the suspicious-vehicle call becomes a burglary call, and a brief description of the suspect’s vehicle is given to the officer. When the officer pulls into the neighborhood, he observes a vehicle leaving and its operator acting suspiciously. The operator is known to the police officer as a burglar he has arrested before. The officer attempts to stop the vehicle, but it drives off into the adjoining town, which is under the jurisdiction of the state police. Now the dispatcher must notify the barracks dispatcher of the suspect’s movement, who must relay that information to any responding troopers.
Neither the municipal officer nor the trooper can communicate with each other because the police officer’s radio is in the UHF (ultrahigh-frequency) range, and the trooper’s is on the 800-megahertz (MHz) digital/trunked system. The two dispatchers must stay on the phone to relay information back and forth. The suspect’s vehicle is spotted by the state police, and they give chase with the intention of pulling it over. Before that can happen, the car crosses into another municipality, and another dispatcher must be briefed on the events that have occurred, unless of course the dispatch center is fortunate enough to have a scanner. The additional municipality cannot communicate with either the initial responding police officer or the trooper because their radio system is operating in a low-band frequency. Now three dispatchers are talking to one another on phone lines and relaying all pertinent information back to their respective cars. Try to imagine how this scenario can be managed, with multiple agencies involved with over six vehicles from disparate agencies, covering an area of over six square miles. The suspect is finally apprehended as a result of good police work—notwithstanding the lack of efficient communications.
This scenario is all too common today in Connecticut. The “HOTLINE” radio, a fixed base station–to–base station communication system established for Connecticut police agencies over 20 years ago, may still be functional in some parts of the state, but it is strictly a point-to-point system. There are some very good regional cooperative systems such as those in Fairfield County, the capital region, the Waterbury area, and New Haven County, but law enforcement officers in bordering towns that do not participate in these systems, or those who are traveling through the state on business and are out of range of their home area’s system, must rely on their cellular phone to communicate—if they have service!
The events described at the beginning of this article really happened. It is bothersome and perhaps dangerous that police officers cannot communicate with each other or back to a control point when outside their normal coverage area. We have seen on the news many instances where state and local police have been involved in an incident but cannot communicate with each other except through their dispatch centers or, as a last but crudely effective resort, using hand signals. In response to this ever-present problem, Connecticut law enforcement agencies have come together to establish the Connecticut State–Police Emergency Radio Network (CS-PERN).
The Creation of CS-PERN
CS-PERN began with a meeting with Murray Pendleton, Waterford chief of police and chairman of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) Homeland Security Committee; Pam Hayes, executive director of the CPCA; and Jack Leonard of the Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS). Following on the initial meeting, the author met with Richard Mulhall, Newington chief of police, and Michael Stemmler of the Connecticut Department of Public Safety (DPS), Communications Division.
The concept was simple in design because most of the equipment already existed. Stemmler proposed the reconfiguration of a duplicate transmitter/repeater that served as a backup to the ICALL/ITAC network (international interoperability channels). It would operate as a single-frequency, 800-MHz analog simulcast repeater that would cover the entire state of Connecticut. This coverage is based on a simple, basic analog radio outputting 35 watts of power. The coverage maps generated for the ICALL/ITAC network at that power output indicated that 97 percent or more of the state would be able to receive and repeat a signal. The basic infrastructure of the system has existed since the installation of the DPS digital radio network. CS-PERN will reuse the existing DPS microwave network that links all its current and future sites. It will also use a Global Positioning System (GPS)–based timing system to coordinate signal utilization throughout the state.
In the course of several meetings with the commissioner of public safety, Len Boyle, along with his senior staff, led by Colonel Ed Lynch, the concept was presented along with the cost estimates. The commissioner and his staff endorsed the plan as presented and agreed to seek out the balance of the funding. Commissioner Boyle did meet with “Skip” Thomas, commissioner of DEMHS, who also agreed with the plan and assisted in obtaining the necessary funds to complete the system.
Cost of CS-PERN
Motorola, the vendor contracted by the state to design the system, has determined the cost to be $1,037,729. The company has also provided a cost estimate of a completely new system if Connecticut were to begin this project without using the existing state infrastructure. That figure is $5,326,449. The CS-PERN proposal represents a cost savings of $4,288,720.
The CPCA has set aside $450,000 for radio interoperability projects from two years’ worth of Homeland Security grant funds. The balance of the project cost, $587,729, was obtained through the efforts of Commissioners Boyle and Thomas.
CS-PERN will be in operation within one year. Police agencies with an existing 800-MHz system will need only to program the new frequency into their radios. The rest will have to equip vehicles with a low-cost analog radio, which can be obtained either through the state contract process or individual agency vendors at a cost of $800 to $1,500, depending on the make, model, and accessories chosen. The CPCA will continue to seek grant opportunities to offset these costs. More importantly, law enforcement personnel across the state will have a simple, cost-effective system for interagency communication during an emergency police operation.■
Note: This article has been adapted with permission from its original form, in the December 2006 issue of Hotline, the CPCA newsletter.