OAKLAND -- Oakland's public safety radio system, known for frequent failures most infamously during President Barack Obama's visit last summer, is now performing up to industry standards, according to a city memo released Friday.
A combination of radio repairs, software fixes and reduced cellphone tower interference has led to more than an 85 percent drop in user complaints since August, the report said.
However, the improved performance has not yet swayed police officers that the system is trustworthy or city officials that it is worth maintaining into the future.
The city is still considering ditching its system to join one built and operated by a consortium of more than 40 East Bay cities and agencies, including almost all of Oakland's neighbors. Tests to determine how well Oakland's radios work on the East Bay system are scheduled to begin next month.
Oakland and Piedmont are the only two Alameda County cities that opted not to join the East Bay Regional Communications Systems Authority, whose new system is designed to work throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
Oakland instead used $18 million in grants to continue upgrading its own system that had been plagued for years with dead spots. But the improvements, which included new radios and a switch to a digital platform in 2011, produced a system even less reliable than what police and firefighters had before.
The dead spots were more random, police said, and coverage was worse inside buildings.
A major reason for the problems, according to a consultant's report last year was that Oakland's digital system was running on the same inadequate infrastructure of radio towers and repeater sites.
The city recently informed a funding agency that it would cost about $4 million "to complete" its radio system, said Francis Zamora, spokesman for the state's Department of Emergency Management.
Sgt. Barry Donelan, who heads Oakland's police union, acknowledged that the radios were working better, but said trust was still low "given the litany of crashes and failures that we've experienced."
Earlier this month, an officer responding to a stabbing at the 1300 block of 80th Avenue held the suspect at gunpoint only to discover that no one could here him when he radioed for backup.
"That's a very dangerous situation; it shouldn't be happening," Donelan said.
Police also are frustrated that testing of Oakland radios on the East Bay system still hasn't been done more than five months after the tests could have gotten under way.
"It hasn't felt like a pressing concern," Donelan said.
The police union is interested in joining the regional system in part because it would make it easier for Oakland officers to talk with their counterparts from other agencies during mutual aid assignments.
David Cruise, hired last August as the city's full-time radio expert, said he's had to focus much of his time on troubleshooting the city's system. Reported radio failures in Oakland, he said, have fallen from about 29 per day, when he started working on the system to fewer than five per day presently.
"Across the board, it's well within public safety standards," Cruise said. "I know there's definitely a lack of confidence. They were promised a radio system that works, and we're delivering that right now."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.