OAKLAND -- City leaders won't rush to replace Oakland's unreliable public safety radio system that failed police officers again Monday night while protesters marched through city streets shortly after a visit from President Obama.
City Administrator Deanna Santana acknowledged persistent radio problems during a Thursday news conference, but cautioned that the city wasn't ready yet to scrap the $18 million system installed just one year ago in favor of a regional system scheduled to come online in September.
"If we don't study before we transition our system, we're likely to make the same mistakes we have made," she said.
Police reported radio failures about 10 p.m. Tuesday, shortly after President Obama wrapped up a fundraiser at the Fox Theater. Lt. Fred Mestas said the officers lost communication with dispatchers for about a half-hour while about 100 protesters meandered through the downtown.
Police quickly overcame the radio troubles, which didn't impact the department's ability to police Obama's visit or the accompanying protests, Chief Howard Jordan said.
The radio issues were caused by a broken cooling system in one of Oakland's three antennae installations. The installation was repaired and working again by 4 p.m. the next day, city officials said.
The incident was by far the most notable failure -- although hardly the worst -- for the system that police officers say has proved even less reliable than the archaic analog system it replaced.
"It never ceases to prove how bad it is," police union President Barry Donelan said. "The radios are more a hindrance than a help."
A city-commissioned report released last week found that the system suffered from poor reception and unclear audio and speaker problems. The radios fared far worse inside buildings.
Radio issues, especially dead zones, have been plaguing Oakland for decades. Several years ago, the city decided that the problems were so severe that it needed to develop its own digital system rather than wait to join a regional radio authority that uses the same technology and includes 40 Alameda and Contra Costa county agencies.
The regional system will have four antennae installations in Oakland, the final of which is scheduled to be completed by the end of September.
Donelan said switching over to the regional system makes sense after recent tests showed that it operates well. "Why wouldn't we go with a system that works rather than a stand-alone system for Oakland that doesn't work," he said.
But there are still several obstacles to overcome, officials said.
The two systems are designed and serviced by different vendors. That means Oakland's three antennae installations can't be folded into the regional system, said Bill McCammon, the regional authority's executive director.
Oakland relied on grant money for most of its $18 million system. If it chose to join the regional authority, it could face losing much of the $7 million spent on antenna's, cables, consoles and items purchased to support the system. The city would still be able to use the radios that cost about $11 million.
Oakland also would have to pay between $72,000 and $96,000 per year to help operate the regional system and pay off the $17 million debt incurred to build it.
City and authority officials met recently about folding Oakland into the system and more discussions are planned for next week, McCammon said. "They're certainly very interested."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6345.