Our Voice: New radios and 911 center make smart combination

Tri-City law enforcement agencies are on the brink of turning a patchwork communication system into a comprehensive regional one.

The effect this will have on public safety is huge. No other improvements in recent memory have matched this.

It just happens that a new radio system in Franklin County is in the works at the same time that the proposed consolidated 911 dispatch center also is getting support.

The combination of the two means better communication throughout the Tri-Cities from the time an emergency call is made to the time help arrives.

Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg said he is excited for the future and what these developments will mean to the safety of law enforcement officers, as well as the community.

It has taken years to get to this point, but finally, the need for cooperation appears to have prevailed.

Limited radio communication among law enforcement officers has been an issue in Franklin County for a long while. Recently, however, a federal grant of about $634,000 has come through for new radios for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Connell Police Department and the Port of Pasco.

Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond said the new radios will allow his deputies to continue using the VHF radio frequency needed in rural parts of Franklin County. But they also will be able to switch to the 800 megahertz radio system that is used by Benton County and Kennewick, Richland and Pasco.

Crime does not stop at one of the bridges, so communication among agencies is extremely important. Raymond said he hopes they will be able to put the new radios in every patrol car and on every officer’s hip by early next year.

In addition to better radio communication, it appears the proposal for the consolidated 911 dispatch center is moving ahead.

The latest plan has been approved by Benton and Franklin county commissioners, but it still needs official support by city councils in Richland, Kennewick and Pasco.

After that, local lawmakers will have to get state funding in order to make the consolidation possible. This should be a top priority for our legislative leaders next year.

Right now, there are separate 911 systems in Benton and Franklin counties. Raymond said that one of the concerns is people who use cellphones can end up being routed to the wrong dispatch center.

That adds time, because the emergency dispatcher then has to get the call to the proper jurisdiction. One 911 dispatch center for the entire Tri-City area would alleviate that.

The sooner the city councils approve the proposal for the consolidated 911 system, the better. It will take time and money to get it running, but perseverance can make it happen.

Just look at the new radios on the way in Franklin County.