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New LAPD Radios Get Negative Reviews

Communication: Some say poor sound poses a safety risk. The city may withhold payment from the maker, which says police just need to get used to the devices.

July 31, 2001|KURT STREETER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles police officers using a new, $21-million radio system cannot communicate with one another at times, raising safety concerns and questions about the equipment's reliability, department and union officials said Monday.

The new equipment, which has been in all squad cars since June, has resulted in technological glitches and confusion among officers who need more training, said Cmdr. Sharon Papa, a Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman.

"We're trying to understand what is going on in the field and make the best decisions on how to fix it," she said.

Officials said some officers have complained that they cannot hear anything at times or can barely understand what is being said by someone in another squad car. In addition, communication has been poor between department helicopters and patrol cars, they said.

After hearing widespread complaints from officers who are worried that a tragedy will occur because of poor communication, the Police Protective League sent a letter to Chief Bernard C. Parks on Friday, demanding a quick remedy.

"This is about the safety of officers on the street," said Ted Hunt, a member of the union's Board of Directors. "They need to figure this one out as quick as possible."

City Controller Laura Chick said she is considering withholding payment from Motorola, the company that supplied the equipment, until she is satisfied with the product.

"There are some serious problems with the system," said Chick, noting that an $18,000 payment is due soon. "If I am not satisfied Motorola is working to fix them, we are not going to pay. I need to be sure we are getting what we pay for."

Motorola spokeswoman Adrienne Dimopoulos said the company is confident its equipment is working properly.

"It will take some time for officers to get comfortable with the system," she said.

The LAPD finished installing digital radios in its roughly 5,000 squad cars in June as part of a continuing push to upgrade its communications system.

Other departments throughout the nation have also experienced problems as they upgraded their communications systems. In Orange County, a grand jury announced in May that transmission failures involving a new, $80-million police radio system pose a threat to public safety and will cost millions of dollars to fix.

The LAPD's digital radios are supposed to offer the best technology available, providing clearer, more reliable communication than the older analog system.

But Raquelle de la Rocha, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, said she was shocked by the poor quality of the department's air-to-ground communication during a recent ride-along.

"I was up there for 3 1/2 hours, and the whole time the helicopter could hardly communicate with the ground," said De la Rocha, who pressed department officials on the issue at a recent commission meeting.

The commissioner said helicopter pilots have watched fellow officers driving directly into the path of armed suspects but have been helpless to tell them to change direction.

She said the helicopter problems are particularly troubling because Motorola does not manufacture a digital radio system for helicopters.

"They are having to jury-rig radios to make do," she said. "For a multimillion-dollar investment, that's not adequate."

Papa said she was not sure whether the department was aware when it contracted with Motorola that the company does not make digital radios for helicopters. She said the department is awaiting a shipment from another company that provides digital radios capable of working in helicopters.

LAPD Chief Information Officer Roger Ham, who is responsible for overseeing the system, said he expects all the problems to be resolved within three months.

"Our goal is to train the officers properly," Ham said. "We have to get officers used to using this type of equipment.

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