Richland County Commissioners seek to fix issues with sheriff’s radios

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Richland County Commissioners hope to decide by the end of summer how to resolve coverage problems with the sheriff’s office dispatch Walkie talkies and convert the department to a digital system.
Commissioners met Tuesday with sheriff’s representatives, other officials and two potential vendors to discuss tests that were done to see if “holes” in radio coverage could be resolved with repeaters in cruisers instead of an entirely new system.
Sheriff Steve Sheldon told commissioners in March that an experiment with low band repeaters in several cruisers did not resolve the coverage problems and recommended the county buy Motorola brand radios through the state’s Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS) at an estimated cost of $630,000. The MARCS radios would meet upcoming federal digital requirements.
Earlier this month, Arlin Bradford of Vasu Communications, which maintains the Two way Radio system, said the test was not done as well as it could have been. He said buying Kenwood brand MARCS-compatible radios through state purchasing would cost just under $400,000 and provide double the number of portable radios through a limited-time upgrade offer. The extra portables could be distributed to township and village police and fire departments to help them save on digital conversion, he said.
On Tuesday, administrative Sgt. Jim Sweat disputed the suggestion that the test was not done well. “Our test was to turn the radios on and press the button to talk,” he said. “We did not try to scan channels or do anything else with the functionality of the system.”
Sweat said the Motorola radios offered through MARCS were better and more reliable than the Kenwood model Bradford proposed. He also offered to conduct a test of both systems from 40 locations — including one in each township — and one internal location at each rural school. He estimated the test would take two or three days.
“What it comes down to is we agree that MARCS is the system we’re going with, and it’s a matter of what end user system we use to communicate with MARCS,” Sweat said.
Butler police Chief Brian Darby urged officials to make sure the Butler and Bellville areas are evaluated. “Butler and the Clear Fork Valley have no communications right now,” he said, noting that he never had a problem with Motorola Kenwood walkie talkies when he was an Ohio Highway Patrol trooper. “I’ve been around since MARCS was conceived, but if another radio works as well, that’s fine.”
Frank Cody, a Motorola representative with Bender Communications’ Mansfield office, said testers should make sure MARCS programs the same feature sets and talk groups into all brands of radios tested. He said officials also should use the same antennas and microphones in order to get a complete replication of what deputies will use in the field.
Commissioners also want an accurate figure for the number of radios needed, including upgrades for any jail-related units. Commissioner Ed Olson said the board hopes to decide on a solution by early July and have the treasurer’s office complete the paperwork by early August.
“It’s essential that we propose equipment to maintain the safety of officers in the field. Safety is utmost over cost,” Olson said. “If the officer is safe, that goes a long way to keeping the public safe.”
In other business Tuesday:
• Commissioners approved an extended payment plan for the sanitary sewer connection fee for a new Subway Restaurant on Interstate Circle off Hanley Road.
• The board approved a contract with Page Excavating of Lucas, which was the low bidder for a flood plain demolition of a home on Ohio 61 north in Shelby.
• The board had an hour-long executive session with Dayspring officials to discuss a personnel issue.

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