Pell City police go digital
by David Atchison
Dec 24, 2011 | 5149 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Pell City Police Department Sgt. Don Newton uses one of the new digital radio units installed in city police cars Tuesday. David Atchison/The Daily Home
The Pell City Police Department Sgt. Don Newton uses one of the new digital radio units installed in city police cars Tuesday. David Atchison/The Daily Home
PELL CITY – The police department has gone digital – with its radios.

Pell City Police Capt. Ed Brasher said the department completed its police radio conversion from analog to digital shortly before 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Federal mandate requires all business and public safety users of UHF and VHF channels to transition to narrowband channels by Jan. 1, 2013.

Brasher said the Pell City Police Department has now met all federal narrowbanding requirements with its new radio system and has already secured its license to operate on the narrowband frequency.

He said the city’s street department is already transmitting digitally, but he is not certain if that department has secured its narrowband license yet.

Brasher said fire departments throughout the county received grant money and will transition to digital radios soon. The Moody Police and Fire Departments have already gone digital.

Pell City Fire Chief Patrick Draper said the city’s fire department will transition from the old analog system to digital in February or March, and put that department in position to transition from the wider radio band to narrowband frequencies.

According to the National Institute of Justice, a research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, using narrowband channels will ensure that agencies take advantage of more efficient technology, and by reducing channel width, will allow additional channels to exist within the same spectrum space.

Brasher said the switch to digital radios cost the city about $85,000, which included 45 new handheld Motorola radios and 40 mobile units for police vehicles.

He said mobile units included radios for the marine police boat, the school resource officer Hummer and two units for the department’s mobile command center.

It took almost two days to install mobile units in all of the police vehicles.

Brasher said the department’s radio repeater went down and needed replacing, so the department went ahead and moved forward with the transition to digital radios.

In November, the Pell City Council declared an emergency and authorized the purchase of a new radio receiver, base station upgrades, along with handheld and mobile radio units from Allcomm Wireless.

Brasher said about 75 percent of the existing police radios would not operate in narrowband, so it was best to replace all police department radios.

The public is not able to listen to emergency transmissions on their home scanners with agencies that have switched to the newer digital radio units or to lower narrowband frequencies.

Brasher said the new radio units have GPS tracking devices, so dispatchers looking at a computer screen can see exactly where a certain police car is in real time.

“That way they can pick the closest unit to a particular call,” Brasher said.

He said the new handheld digital radios could also help police locate an officer who is reported down.

Brasher said Pell City officers are capable of switching over from digital to analog, so they can communicate with St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department deputies who are still transmitting on the analog system.

Bill Richvalsky, the St. Clair County 911 director, said the county has digital units, but has not switched to the narrowband yet. Deputies are transmitting on the older frequencies.

He said analog would probably become a thing of the past because of digital radio units.

“By all means, they are moving in the right direction,” Richvalsky said of the Pell City Police Department.

He said county officials want all agencies to secure the proper equipment, so the transition to narrowband frequencies is done at the same time, becoming more cost effective.

“We want to do it well ahead of the Jan. 1, (2013) deadline,” Richvalsky said. “You don’t want to wait until the last minute.”

He said all emergency agencies within St. Clair County should transmit on narrowband channels by early summer 2012.

“Everybody has to get their license changed first,” Richvalsky said. “When everybody is ready, we’ll do it.”