Voices of Pasco police officers barely were discernible from the static on the first recorded radio conversation.
On the second, it sounded like the officers were talking within Pasco City Council chambers.
Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger played the two taped radio conversations Monday for the Pasco City Council to illustrate why the city needs to consider switching to a 800 megahertz radio system and forming a regional emergency communications system soon.
The council could vote next week for the city to get ready to switch radio systems for Pasco police and join a regional system by the end of this year. The resolution also would call on other Franklin County public safety agencies to take similar steps.
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The cities, counties and fire districts in Benton and Franklin counties have been discussing combining Franklin County's dispatch center and SECOMM, or Southeast Communications Center.
A recent study by eGov Consulting suggested that joining the two dispatch centers and BIPIN, or the Bicounty Police Information Network, could save thousands of dollars and improve services.
While other cities and the counties have endorsed the consultant's study, Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield said he is concerned about the lack of a timeline. The stakes are too high to put conversion off for several years, he said.
Metzger said conversion is needed for officers' safety. The radio is police officers' most important tool because it allows them to coordinate with other officers.
The first conversation was an actual conversation during which officers were pursuing a domestic violence suspect by car and foot. The officers on foot couldn't be heard on the very high frequency, or VHF, system Pasco uses.
The second conversation was a test of the 800 megahertz radio system at the same site. It is the system that Richland and Kennewick police already use.
"Every day out there, I am worried," Metzger said.
Pasco police can't communicate with other police using radios and share a single frequency with all other Franklin County agencies, Metzger said.
And merging dispatch will help with misdirected calls, said Pasco Fire Chief Bob Gear. About 80 percent of calls that dispatch receives are cellphones, which have a high potential to go to the wrong dispatch center.
Some small Franklin County agencies expressed concern about the projected increased costs for emergency communications if regionalization should take place.
But the consultant's cost estimates were not comparing apples to apples, Crutchfield said. Another look at possible costs to the public safety agencies for switching show that Pasco could pay about $14,000 more a year for the same service and Franklin County could save $40,000 before the savings of regionalization are included.
A state-paid study that will examine fusing 911 services in Benton and Franklin counties may be finished by April. But Crutchfield said the city doesn't need to wait for that study to start working on an interlocal contract with the other cities and counties.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org