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Some Cincinnati City Council members threaten company over police dispatch problems

Posted: 5:25 PM, Jun 05, 2017
Updated: 2017-06-06 08:50:34Z

CINCINNATI -- Police radio communication has improved after months of problems, Chief Eliot Isaac said Monday. But the president of the city's police union and a longtime dispatcher say  issues with a computer-aided dispatching system still leave officers in danger.

Members of Cincinnati City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee pushed the dispatching software company, TriTech, to fix the system -- and fast. If issues persist, some council members said they want the city's contract with TriTech terminated.

Problems with new police radios, from Motorola, have dragged out since last fall. Sgt. Dan Hils, president of Fraternal Order of Police Local 69, complained radios have consistently malfunctioned since they were issued, sometimes sounding garbled and other times not transmitting at all. Hils has been the voice for frustrated officers, saying patience is wearing thin.

The union even mounted a social media campaign , enlisting officers' families to implore Motorola to make a fix.

 

Motorola officials insisted Monday they've resolved issues with all but 14 radios following one-on-one sessions with 1,000 officers.

"If they said, 'Hey, I had an issue,' we went out immediately with them to replicate, re-create it and solve the problem," Motorola vice president John Zidar said.

Monday's attention turned to the city's dispatching system. In some instances, dispatchers said they weren't getting all of the information they need to help officers in the field, such as license plate numbers that might show whether a suspect had open warrants.

 

Julie Pratt, a longtime city dispatcher, recalled a recent case of an officer struggling with a suspect: The officer pushed her "Code Red" button, asking for immediate help from nearby officers.

None of them got her call: When the dispatcher put out the alert, Pratt said, it went out on every channel except the one used by the closest officers.

Similar problems have happened five times in the past two weeks, she added.

"In the last 21 years, I've buried so many officers," Pratt said. "We can't be a liability up in dispatch."

She told reporters TriTech has made progress. Company vice president Scott MacDonald promised to do more.

"You have not just my commitment, but also that of the company, not just to resolve the issues, but to make the system better," MacDonald said.

If it fails to live up to that commitment, council members reminded TriTech they'd be aggressive about putting a different company in charge of the dispatching system. Councilman Christopher Smitherman, chairman of the committee, said he wants an update within the next two weeks.

"We understand lives are on the line, and so that becomes priceless," Smitherman said.