Interoperability makes strange bedfellows
A pilot program for mobile communications interoperability at the Denver Police Department includes 600 Nextel phones.
Why strange bedfellows?
Denver’s 800-MHz EDACS analog police radio communications system currently receives some interference from Nextel cell sites. And if Nextel were to have its way, Denver and many other 800-MHz system users would have to change frequencies in a national migration estimated to cost billions of dollars. That said, let’s set aside Nextel’s and Denver’s interference problems and focus on their interoperability project.
“We’re testing Nextel phones for interoperability and as a back-up for our own radio system,” said Lt. Roger Barker of the department’s ID Records Bureau. “Our cars presently have cell phones, but they’re not a radio-phone, so they can only make phone calls.”
Interoperability — On the police radio system, Denver officers can make direct radio contact with their counterparts in nearby cities, but the process is difficult and convoluted, Barker said. The Nextel phones give Denver officers the ability to talk easily and directly with many drug enforcement and gang intervention teams in neighboring jurisdictions that already use the wireless carrier’s phones. The need sometimes arises when events take police or suspects near or across jurisdictional boundaries.
Back-up — The Nextel phones would give the department a means of wireless communications if its own radio system were to fail altogether.
Graham Bennett, Nextel’s area vice president, said that additional phones were deployed to the Denver Fire Department and to officials of the Denver Health and Hospital Authority’s Paramedic Division that provides the city’s 9-1-1 emergency medical services.
“This additional deployment supports communications interoperability among police, fire and emergency medical services,” Bennett said.
A fire department spokesman said that 50 Nextel phones are being tested as a back-up to the radio communications system and are not being tested for interoperability. A paramedic department spokesman said that his department is testing 10 phones for interoperability and back-up capabilities.
The phones are configured using all of their features, including “direct connect,” which is Nextel’s name for push-to-talk radio communications. For the police department, Barker put together a matrix of talk groups in 35 areas within the city, and Nextel programmed the phones.
Following training sessions, the phones were deployed between June 24 and July 10.
How to involve dispatchers is yet to be resolved. Barker said that, one way or another, dispatchers will have the capability of contacting officers with the Nextel phones.
Most of the phones have been placed in patrol divisions, and others with workers in the crime lab, and still others with assault and homicide detectives who are most likely to be in contact with the gang intervention and SWAT teams. Any additional deployment is yet to be determined.
Barker said that he has had excellent feedback about the phones. When it comes to a choice of using the phone or the police radio, he said the radio still is primary.
“But if an officer needs to talk with someone individually about a crime or a suspect and it’s something no one else needs to hear, using the Nextel frees up the airwaves,” Barker said.
As far as interference goes, Barker said that the Denver Police Department’s relationship with Nextel about that problem has been better than what he has heard it may be for other departments in other places.
“I’m not sure why that is. From what I’ve heard, they’ve been more than willing to work with us here. They’ve made some progress on the interference problems. Not by any stretch of the imagination is the work done or the problem resolved, but Nextel has been responsive. We’ve had a good relationship,” Barker said.
“Plus, we’re surrounded by agencies in adjacent cities that use Nextel units.”
Bishop is editorial director. His email address is [email protected].
Downtown with Nextel
Before the pilot project to equip Denver Police Department patrol divisions with 600 Nextel phones, the department’s District Six and its Downtown Motorcycle Unit deployed 30 Nextel phones.
The phones are used to improve communications among the police and downtown businesses. A key participant is the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District, funded by downtown property owners through the non-profit Downtown Denver Partnership.
The “Cellular Phone Talk Group” on the Nextel phones allows anyone in the group to use the two-way radio function to broadcast information to all other members for the purpose of crime prevention, suspect apprehension, critical incident management and partnership-building. The police department controls membership in the talk group and sets the policy for its use.
Don Pesek, BID’s operations manager, said that the Cellular Phone Talk Group appealed to his organization after Sept. 11, 2001, because BID received calls from property owners asking about security. He said that each building was making up its own rules, and BID thought the talk group would offer a means of discussing downtown problems, not to mention its usefulness in controlling shoplifting.
“It puts more eyes on the street. That’s what we strive for, having everyone looking out for each other,” Pesek said.
Officer Mylous Yearing from the motorcycle unit said that the police had found that a separate radio system for the same purpose would cost three to four times as much as the least expensive alternative. Plus, many of the businesses already had Nextel phones.
He also said that a civilian on a phone guiding the police to a possible suspect doesn’t attract as much attention. The civilian feels more comfortable using the phone, and the subject isn’t as likely to react to seeing someone using a phone compared to a radio.