Sheriff presents radio needs

Published 1:48 pm Saturday, April 30, 2016

Coming before Windsor Town Council on Tuesday afternoon, Isle of Wight Sheriff Mark Marshall made a case for a new public safety radio communications system for the county.

While communication has changed largely from land lines to mobile phones, Marshall said, “What hasn’t changed is calls for service. There are existing challenges within the current system [used by public safety personnel].”

The current VHF radio system technology has been become old, outdated and built out. There are also interoperability issues. This is a stand-alone system, the sheriff said whereas in other parts of Hampton roads, an 800 trunking system is used. But Isle of Wight deputies or firefighters can’t talk with them because it’s completely different radio spectrum.

“If you don’t have that communication, you’ve got problems,” Marshall added. “Public safety should have 95 percent coverage. We don’t have it by a long stretch.”

To underscore his points, Marshall played radio transmissions. In the first, an Isle of Wight deputy is attacked in a fight, and the second was a medical call at a high school. In both cases, listeners could hear that the dispatcher was having difficulty hearing the calls. In contrast, a recording was played of a York County dispatcher requesting officers to respond to an armed robbery.

He said there’s an estimated 65 percent coverage in the county, with gaps in Carrsville and Rushmere. Everywhere, in fact. “Frankly, it falls way short.”

A consultant at Engineering Associates consultant was hired to review coverage options and analyze existing site locations.

One option to expand coverage is a partnership opportunity. There have been favorable conversations with the City of Suffolk.

“I feel really pretty positive that will happen,” Marshall said.

The sheriff acknowledged that he’s probably asking at a bad time, but does think it’s doable.

The cost could range from $6 million to $11 million to establish a new radio system for the county.

“What I know is we need this system,” he said.

Councilwoman Patty Fleming asked if licenses are bought annually. He replied they’re renewed annually.

Pointing to a walkie-talkie, she asked if the personnel would still be using those radios?

“The current radios would be incompatible, as would be police radios. In fact, everyone uses different equipment,” Marshall said. “There are approximately 450-500 users.”

Windsor Police Chief R.D. Riddick said a ballpark figure to equip a police vehicle would be $5,000 per car. He added that his department has had communication issues similar to the sheriff’s office.

The consultants are researching grants.

“I don’t think anything’s off the table,” Marshall said.

Mayor Carita Richardson asked how long would it take for installation and implementation. The sheriff figured that once a site has been acquired, it could be up and running within a year. Map of sites are being developed, he added.

Marshall hopes the project won’t be “kicked down the road,” and added that he believes the “political will is there. It’s just a matter of finding the money to pay for it.