Preparedness

City Hopes Sales Tax Could Pay for Upgrade of Outdated Public Safety Radio System

The 20-year-old public safety radio system for both Bakersfield and Kern County is outdated.

by Sam Morgen, The Bakersfield Californian / August 1, 2018

(TNS) - When the radio of a Bakersfield police officer breaks, the IT department doesn’t call the manufacturer for a replacement. They go to eBay to try to find extra parts.

The 20-year-old public safety radio system for both Bakersfield and Kern County is outdated. The manufacturer of the radios no longer services the devices nor produces parts for upgrades.

Agencies like the Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff's Office use their radio systems for officers and the dispatch centers to communicate with each other.

The city and county have begun formulating a strategy for updating the aging analog system to digital.

A report from a consultant estimated in 2017 that replacing the current radio system would cost about $76.7 million. The city would cover about $16.2 million of the cost, with the county taking $60.5 million.

“Essentially (the plan) is under review as far as whether or not it moves forward or waits for another time,” said Megan Person, director of countywide communications.

The city hopes the 1 percent sales tax increase, which is expected to raise $50 million annually, could help fund the new system.

“We have no money for it. So the sales tax is the best opportunity,” said Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy.

If the tax increase does not pass in November, Tandy said, the radio system will remain in place for the time being.

But doing nothing doesn’t sit well with some public safety officials.

“One of the hardest things that I do as chief is give direction to staff to go out and put themselves in harm’s way for the greater good,” Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin said in an email. “To think that I will be sending them out there with less than adequate radio equipment keeps me up at night. The radio is their lifeline to back-up and lifesaving resources for the public.”

A new radio system would boost the signal strength for police and fire radios, as well as modernize the equipment being used.

“Think of big, old, boxes for TVs and what flat-screens are now,” Tandy said. “It’s a technological shift.”

New radio towers would need to be constructed in a process that would take around two years.

“It’s going to push the signal into areas where we normally haven’t had it,” said BPD Public Information Officer Brian Holcombe. “So concrete buildings will no longer be a problem.”

Under the current radio system, coverage inside certain concrete buildings within the city becomes spotty. Police would no longer have an issue communicating inside those areas with new radios, Holcombe said.

The new system would have the advantage of linking county and city communications, which would make it easier for public safety workers in different departments to talk to each other during emergency events.

“The possibilities with new technology like this are endless,” Holcombe said.

But for now, the possibilities are more restricted.

“We will probably be on eBay until our circumstances change,” Tandy said. “It’s something you can get by with for a while but eventually it becomes too problematic.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415 or smorgen@bakersfield.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

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©2018 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.)

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