Norwich, Conn., Mulls Partnership with State for New Police Radio System

The proposal would drastically cut costs from earlier $10 million projections, while improving coverage and relieving the city of responsibility for maintenance.

by Claire Bessette, The Day / August 6, 2018
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(TNS) — Norwich — For decades, police officers have complained that the city’s police radio system is woefully inadequate with dead zones potentially leaving officers stranded in dangerous situations, but city officials have balked at the $10-plus million price tag to replace the system.

Police Chief Patrick Daley now has a plan to replace the system for what could seem like a bargain at $2.7 million. The new plan would partner the city’s police radio system with the state’s emergency broadcast infrastructure, lowering the cost for Norwich while improving coverage citywide. The new system eventually could be expanded to cover the city fire radios as well, city officials said.

City Council President Pro Tempore William Nash knows intimately the problems with the police radio system. A retired Norwich police officer, Nash recalled a time he was alone and chasing a suspect on foot along the freight railroad tracks that pass by the police station at Norwich Harbor and the radio cut out.

“There’s nothing scarier than being in a police chase and have the dispatcher say: ‘We didn’t catch that. Unit, you’re unreadable,’” Nash said. “We’re at a critical point now where we’re putting officers’ lives in danger, and we’re putting citizens’ lives in danger.”

Nash, chairman of the City Council Public Safety Committee, said he too choked on the old projections of $10 million or more to replace the system, but now is excited at the new proposal and the opportunities it brings to partner with the state. And because the state owns much of the infrastructure, the state maintains the system, cutting repair costs to the city.

“Pat Daley and the police department over there really shook the tree to get the best deal for the city and it is a good plan for the city,” Nash said.

Daley will give a presentation on the new proposal to the City Council Public Safety Committee at 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. The City Council is expected to vote Monday to schedule a public hearing for Aug. 20 on a bonding ordinance for the radio system. If approved by the council, the bond request would be put to voters in a referendum on Nov. 6.

Once the referendum is scheduled, city officials will be prohibited from spending city money to promote passage of the bond, but Daley said police will be available to answer questions and provide information to individuals and groups about the project.

Daley said details of the plan will be unveiled Wednesday but joining the state’s system would use state radio towers supplemented with some equipment to be built in Norwich. The new system would work for radios in police cruiser and for portable radios carried by officers in the field.

Infrastructure for the existing system dates back to the 1940s and officers experience frequent garbled or lost calls and dead zones caused by the city’s steep, rocky hills and river valleys.

“It’s the age of the system,” Daley said. “It hasn’t been upgraded in decades and it’s reached the end of its life.”

The station’s dispatch console was updated recently and would need little work to make it compatible with the new radio system, Daley said.

Mayor Peter Nystrom said Wheelabrator, owner of the Lisbon trash incinerator on the Shetucket River, has agreed to allow police to place a transmitter at the incinerator that will carry police radio signals along Norwich’s main river valleys, the Shetucket, Quinebaug, Thames and Yantic.

Alderman Joseph DeLucia, also a former Norwich police officer, said what was “most telling” to him was a comment by Daley that the radio system DeLucia used in the early 1980s was better than the now much older system officers use today.

“When I first heard the $10 million price tag, I almost fell out of my chair,” DeLucia said of his initial inquiries into the radio problem. “The solution resolves that, and it can be expanded to the fire service in the future. It’s kind of hard not to support this. We’re talking about 25 percent (of the cost) of what we were initially talking about.”

©2018 The Day (New London, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.