Stonington approves $1.3M upgrade of police radio system

Stonington — The Board of Finance voted Wednesday night to approve a plan to spend $1.3 million to replace the police department’s aging radio system, an upgrade that has been discussed for more than eight years.

The project not only will replace outmoded equipment that keeps breaking and is difficult to repair due to a shortage of replacement parts but now will allow officers to talk directly to those in other departments. In addition, the upgrade will make the town the first municipality to tie in to the state radio system, allowing officers to talk directly to state police as well as various state agencies.

The department’s current system is more than 18 years old and, according to police Capt. Todd Olson and Chief J. Darren Stewart, portable radios carried by officers often fail and the vendor that services the system has told the department it no longer can obtain parts to repair the portable radios, main consoles and other pieces of equipment. In addition, the equipment that transmits communications signals is failing and certain areas of town, such as Deans Mill School, have gaps in coverage. Olson said this not only puts officers at risk but the public as well if officers cannot communicate with headquarters about issues such as a person’s medical condition or what is happening at a scene.

Another problem with the existing system is that officers’ single-band radios only allow them to communicate with headquarters. This means, for example, that if Stonington officers respond to Groton or Westerly to assist officers there or those officers come to Stonington, messages have to be relayed between the officers and their respective headquarters. The new multi-band radios will allow Stonington officers to switch to the band used by the other police departments so they can talk directly to each other. It also will give officers the ability to talk directly to fire departments and ambulance companies.

Olson said the critical need for “interoperability” has become increasingly important with incidents such as school shootings and terrorist attacks happening across the country.

Olson said that as the police department worked with a consultant on the project, the opportunity to join the state system presented itself. Police here will now be able to talk to state police directly, as well as other agencies such as the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and state Health Department, and even federal agencies. The project in part will fund a new antennae at the police station that will be added to the state system.

Olson said the state is looking for municipalities to join the system and chose Stonington for the pilot program. The state will not charge the town a fee for joining the system.

“We’re going to be the blueprint for other towns,” he said.

While the radio replacement project will cost about $1.3 million, the town already has set aside $725,000 in recent budgets to offset the impact of the project on taxpayers. The Board of Finance approved taking $235,000 from the town’s more than $11 million undesignated fund surplus to help pay for the system. The remaining $370,000 will be included in the upcoming 2018-19 capital improvement budget. Stewart said the new system should be operational by Sept. 1.

The town will maintain the existing system as a backup in case of an emergency.


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