'Outdated' police radios causing safety concerns

Posted at 5:23 AM, Dec 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-10 05:23:49-05

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. -- They are a life line for police and fire rescue: Public safety radios.

The radios are equipped in all law enforcement and fire rescue vehicles in the county for first responders to stay in touch with each other and with dispatchers.

But, in Martin County, county leaders say there are areas where that connection is being lost because of "dead zones", areas where cellular service is weak and connections through the radio can be lost.

Those gaps in communication, according to first responders, can be life threatening.

County officials blame the gaps on outdated technology. The radios, county-wide, are more than 10-years-old.

County leaders are planning to update the radios for the sake of public safety, but it will not be cheap.

Commissioners are considering a plan to spend nearly $8 million to construct two new cell phone towers, update more than 2,000 radios in the county and replace approximately 500 radios in 2016.

Commissioners say there is more than $2 million dollars in savings that could be put toward the purchase. The county has been saving that money over the years anticipating this needed upgrade.

They're also contemplating turning to St. Lucie County to help cover costs. St. Lucie County could also tap into and benefit from the construction of the two new towers.

Commissioners hope to make the burden for tax payers minimal, or eliminate it completely.

Martin County Fire Rescue has experienced some gaps in coverage.

County leaders say the weakest areas tend to be in the northern area of the county. There have also been weak signals in Jensen Beach, Hobe Sound and parts of western Martin County.

Corporal Brian Bossio with Stuart Police says constant communication with dispatch is essential to make sure he is safe. "You never know what's going to happen on this job…Police radios are probably the most important piece of equipment that we carry."

They are also essential, he says, to keep the public safe. "If you make a call to 911 and those dispatchers aren't able to relay that information to the officers and fire rescue personnel, there could be catastrophic results," Bossio said.

The county says school busses and county workers also rely on the radio system.

Commissioners are set to vote on the upgrade Dec. 15.

The county can save millions of dollars on the upgrade if they purchase the upgrade before the end of the year to take advantage of the cell service provider's end of year discounts.