"Every day out there, I am worried."
Those are chilling words coming from Pasco's new police chief, Bob Metzger.
But it's not the inherent danger his officers face that prompted the remark. Metzger was referring to the added anxiety of using an antiquated radio system that's not part of a regional emergency communications system.
Metzger, who was sworn in as chief in October, runs the only police department in the Tri-Cities still using a VHF radio system. Kennewick and Richland have converted to the 800 megahertz radio system that Pasco police want.
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To illustrate his point, Metzger recently played two recordings for the Pasco City Council. On the first, using the existing system and a recording of an actual domestic violence call, static overwhelmed the radio communication. Officers on foot could not be heard at all.
Testing the 800 megahertz system from the same site resulted in crystal-clear radio traffic for all involved.
The council is expected to vote next week to switch radio systems and to join a regional communications system by year's end. The council's actions also would ask other Franklin County public safety agencies to do the same.
Currently, emergency officials in Benton and Franklin counties use a fractured communications system with three separate components: Franklin County's dispatch center, SECOMM (Southeast Communications Center) and the BIPIN, or Bicounty Police Information Network.
A study last year indicated that merging the three would enhance service and save money. When talking about life-and-death situations, money hardly matters. But the fact that this consolidation would cut costs is a bonus in these cash-strapped times for local governments.
Communication is key to public safety and the safety of those whose job it is to respond in a crisis. Anything that can be done to make that communication more efficient and effective is a good idea. No life should not be jeopardized because police are using are inadequate radios.
Pasco police can't communicate with their counterparts in other jurisdictions by radio, and they share a single frequency with every other Franklin County agency. That is just not right. Or in the public's interest.
A clear timeframe is needed to enhance the safety of our community with a consolidated regional emergency communication system. Lives are at stake and there's no time to waste.
We expect Pasco's council will authorize the new radios. And we like the fact that city officials are pushing other agencies to join them -- and soon -- in a regional emergency communication effort.
With so many entities involved, there needs to be a leader to get them all organized and moving forward. We applaud Pasco for taking on that role, and Chief Metzger for speaking up for the critical needs of his department so early in his tenure.