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Harlingen, Texas, Grapples with Rapidly Outdated Tech

Nearly six years ago, Harlingen bought a $1.3 million police radio expected to be current for the foreseeable future. But at a recent budget workshop, the city manager described the system as “outdated technology.”

by Fernando Del Valle, Valley Morning Star / August 12, 2019

(TNS) — Financing technological equipment can be risky business.

Nearly six years ago, city officials in Harlingen, Texas, bought a $1.3 million police radio system they geared to “take us into the 21st century.” As part of their contract with Motorola, they agreed to finance the 24 radios at a 2.3 percent interest rate during a 10-year term. But at a recent budget workshop, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa described the system as “outdated technology.”

Now, interim Harlingen Police Chief Fred Bell says technicians have worked on the system to hold off on the purchase of updated radios.

In October 2013, then-Assistant City Manager Art Rodriguez bought the Motorola radio system, describing its technology as “state-of-the-art.”

“This will take us into the 21st century, where we should be,” Rodriguez said in December 2013.

After all, the cities of Harlingen, Brownsville and McAllen — and even the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department — were using similar systems, he said.

The Motorola radio system equips squad cars with computers that provide officers with data bases allowing them to conduct criminal background checks from their vehicles.

“This is consistent with other major departments,” Rodriguez said at the time. “We’re going to be sharing data bases.”

But in the world of radio technology, six years is a long time.

During a June 25 workshop, city commissioners began planning their budget for the upcoming fiscal year when De La Rosa appeared to stop short of warning them the police department needed an updated radio system.

“The system only has a certain shelf life,” De La Rosa told them.

In about five years, De La Rosa said, technological change had basically outdated the police department’s radio system.

But the city has more than four years to go before it pays it off.

“We’re throwing away money,” De La Rosa said. “It’s not dilapidated. The sun deteriorates it. It’s not that it’s not running. Technology is forever changing.”

So officials are trying to keep the radio system alive.

With a tight general fund budget of about $12 million, the city can’t afford a new radio system — at least not now.

At City Hall, Bell says technicians have worked to pump some life into the old radios.

“The PD radios were reprogrammed recently and system replacement is not being projected or budgeted at this time,” Bell stated.

©2019 Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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