Norwich City Council sends $2.7 million bond for new police radios to referendum

Norwich – At Monday's night's City Council meeting, police officers recounted harrowing stories of when the department radio system has failed them.

There was the time when current Deputy Chief Christopher Ferace used a runner to relay critical messages after an officer had been shot. Then there was an incident in which an officer had to ask a resident to call the station to report progress on a K-9 search in the woods off Plain Hill Road.

A third officer played a dispatch audio record in which the officer’s urgent voices were garbled, crackled and reduced to static.

Lt. John Perry, a 16-year Norwich police officer, told the council that 60 to 65 percent of police radio calls are not being heard.

“Can you imagine in Norwich if 60 to 65 percent of 911 calls were not being heard?” Perry asked the council. “… Officers depend on these radios as their lifeline.”

In his 25 years of working as a Norwich police officer, Ferace told the City Council Monday, “my radio has failed more than it has worked.”

Following the hearing, the council voted unanimously to send a $2.7 million bond ordinance to replace the obsolete and failing police radio system to residents to vote on in a Nov. 6 referendum, Election Day. If approved, the city would hook into the state emergency communications system, with the city money paying for new radios and related equipment for each officer and police cruisers.

Aldermen William Nash and Joseph DeLucia, both former Norwich police officers, said they too have experienced the radio problems first-hand during their tenures on the city force decades ago.

“I have been on the receiving end of ‘last unit unreadable’ when I was on a foot chase,” Nash said.

Alderwoman Stacy Gould said the system has reached a critical point. Gould, a volunteer firefighter, said she has a scanner at home and has heard messages such as “last unit unreadable” on numerous occasions.

Gould said she understood the objections to the high cost but said the council no longer can delay action to replace radios. Past cost estimates for an entire new system without connecting with the state system, was well over $10 million. DeLucia credited Police Chief Patrick Daley with coming up with a plan to replace the radios at a fraction of the original cost.

In his tax impact memo, city Comptroller Josh Pothier calculated the tax impact at $13 per year on the median-valued home. Chief Daley said the annual operating costs  of the new system would start at $80,000, an increase from the $36,000 annual cost experienced now, but maintenance costs would be lower, and all equipment would be purchased through the state at a cost savings.

Following a public hearing on a second proposed bond ordinance for $8.47 million to fund economic development incentives, aldermen were debating whether to approve the bond and forward it to voters late Monday. No vote was taken by press time Monday night.

Mayor Peter Nystrom proposed the $8.47 million to expand the existing $3.38 million downtown revitalization program voters approved in 2010. The Norwich Community Development Corp., which administers the downtown bond, told the City Council the $2.47 million committed from that bond has yielded $22.8 million in economic impact thus far.

c.bessette@theday.com

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