OAKLAND -- A radio system designed to help Oakland police and firefighters finally communicate with compatriots in other cities has had so many glitches that officers say they now have trouble even talking to each other.
A city-commissioned report released Tuesday found that the radio system Oakland implemented last year has been plagued by poor reception, unclear audio and speaker problems and that "numerous improvements are required" to bring it up to par.
"There is absolutely no confidence in the current radio system," Police union President Barry Donelan said. "You never know when and where it's going to work."
Oakland has long had radio issues. After years of complaints about dead spots and service malfunctions with the city's former analog system, Oakland decided to fast-track implementation of the new digital system, known as P25, rather than wait to join a regional radio collaborative that uses the same technology and will include 40 public agencies in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
The new system proved troublesome from the start. Oakland's infrastructure of antennae, servers, cables and towers proved insufficient for the energy-hungry new technology, and the city didn't do a good enough job preparing workers for the switch, officials said.
A series of improvements over the past year has the system working better, according to the report by engineering firm RCC Consultants, Inc. However, it's still failing to meet standards when officers are inside buildings.
Donelan said police officers haven't seen any improvements. "It's worse than the old system," he said. "We've already had a couple of critical incidents where it failed."
In one instance, an officer struggling with a suspect wasn't able to radio for help, Donelan said. "All I want is that when one of my members hits the mic key and calls dispatch, the system works."
Oakland relied on grants to pay for much of the $18 million system. City officials are now working with the consultant on cost estimates for fixing it or joining the regional collaborative. Meanwhile, the city is undertaking several initiatives aimed at making the system function better within six months, including upgrading infrastructure, training workers and monitoring more closely for system failures.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6345.