Radio issues a critical safety concern

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By Thomas Barr

 HILLVIEW – One might think that the most important item on a police officer’s belt is his or her weapon.

     But Hillview police chief Glenn Caple said it is actually an officer’s handheld radio.

     No matter the officer’s location or situation, Caple said the ability to have communication with dispatchers or other law enforcement officials could be a matter of life and death.

     After Hillview officer Bill Mahoney spoke to the county’s emergency services committee, the issue over radio concerns was recently communicated with members of Bullitt Fiscal Court.

     For years, Caple said the issue of being able to have communication with hand-held radios inside structures has been common for Hillview officers. The problem is also something which concerns other police agencies.

     “If we can’t use radios inside buildings, we will be sunk,” said Caple.

     In a test, Caple said Hillview officer Roy Raines went into school buildings. For the most part, the officers could receive information via their radios; however, they were unable to call out.

     “It’s not just a Hillview issue,” said Caple. “It’s a safety issue for all the officers.”

     Mahoney, who worked in Hillview and then went to Mount Washington and Louisville Metro before returning, said that the radio system has been lacking for years.

     He visits the three schools in Hillview’s corporate limits on a daily basis and communications is a problem.

     “That is a huge concern for me,” said Mahoney.

     The five-watt radios, the limit allowed for hand-held devices, won’t travel well through buildings, said Caple. A change by the FCC on frequencies has also not helped the local situation, said Mahoney.

     County attorney Monica Robinson said the issue has been mentioned at every meeting of police chiefs. She said the current equipment is doing everything possible.    

     “This is a large problem that needs to be part of a big plan,” said Robinson.

     Mike Phillips, director of emergency services, said that a $600,000 Homeland Security grant allowed the tower on Collings Hill Road to be replaced.

     There is also a tower at Mount Elmira Road and on a water tank on Hubbards Lane in Mount Washington.

     The real solution is getting about $7 million to install several towers, said Phillips.

     Short of finding a windfall of money, Phillips said work is being done by the county’s communications vendor to see what can be done with existing equipment.

     The tower equipment is all relatively new. There is a need for another tower site to handle the problems in the northern part of the county.

     At the same time, there are portions of western Bullitt County that has next to no radio signal.

     Without building another site, adding in-car repeater systems would be another alternative, said Phillips.

     Mahoney has been used to experiment with the in-car repeater system and he said the first few days went well. But he didn’t know if this was an actual solution or just a patch.

     Phillips said another alternative might be to increase the height of the current Mount Elmira Road tower by 40 feet.

     Magistrate John Bradshaw, who is an engineer who is quite familiar with towers, said that to build a new tower would be very expensive.

     At the same time, he said no life should be put on the line due to a money issue.

     He recommended that Phillips continue to look at all avenues to improve the situation, including the location of a new tower.

     Robinson encouraged some type of long-term plan be devised for the communications issues.

     Phillips said he would discuss the issue when the chiefs meet in June.