ALABAMA - Some Police Walkie-Talkies Won't Talk : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


Some police walkie-talkies won't talk

Different brands can't communicate with each other

03/19/2000 By STEVE DOYLE Times Staff Writer

It's an indelible image - police herding frightened students away from Columbine High School. From the hovering news helicopter, it looked like the cops had the situation under control.

They didn't.

Fifteen law enforcement agencies - from the FBI to the local sheriff's department - converged on the high school when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold began their shooting rampage.

Crime news & statistics

What the TV cameras didn't show was that radio communication between the departments was nearly impossible because each used a different brand of walkie-talkie. Radios made by one company wouldn't "talk" to radios made by another.

Retired Madison Police Chief Cecil Moses said the communication problems at Columbine could just as easily have happened in Alabama.

There are more than 350 police and sheriff's departments in the state, and few use the same radio gear.

Smaller departments tend to have older, analog walkie-talkies with limited range.

Many large police forces, including Huntsville, have switched to state-of-the-art digital radios.

Moses, who spent the past year as chairman of the Alabama Law Enforcement Technology Alliance - ALETA, for short - said there's almost no "interoperability" between radios made by different companies.

"There's a real hunger out there for a better way of doing things," he said.

Last week, Gov. Don Siegelman, at the urging of Moses and other alliance board members, signed an executive order promising to develop a statewide strategy for improving communication between police departments.

Moses said Alabama is one of the first states to take a hard look at law enforcement data sharing. Colorado began a similar effort shortly after the Columbine massacre.

Siegelman's order creates the Office of Law Enforcement Systems Integration and Standards in Montgomery.

It will have six employees overseen by a 13-member board of directors.

One goal is to develop a statewide standard for police radios and laptop computers. The idea is to get every law enforcement agency in Alabama on the same page when it comes to technology.

Decatur Police Chief Joel Gilliam said he welcomes advice from the state about what radios to buy.

He said police chiefs now must rely on sales people to tell them what their radio can do and whether it's compatible with other departments.

Decatur's police radios, he said, won't allow officers to talk with cops in Huntsville or Madison.

"If someone robs a bank in Huntsville, spends the money in Decatur and sleeps in Madison, the only way I can hear about it is on the news," Gilliam said. "It just doesn't make sense."

The new office will also look at improving police access to state crime data bases.

Many state agencies, such as the Department of Corrections, have tons of valuable information on computer that officers in the field cannot access quickly.

"It takes hours - days sometimes - for an investigator to find out about someone's background," Moses said.

) 2000 The Huntsville Times. Used with permission.

-- (, March 19, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ