Scanner swap: Radford police go digital
Newsrooms in the New River Valley have grown a little quieter.
But within the department, Radford police officers say they are hearing each other loud and clear – louder and clearer than ever before.
The Radford Police Department is one of the first in the area to switch to a digital radio system – second only to the Radford University Police Department.
“Digital transmissions are by nature difficult to overhear or monitor or listen to with a receiver,” said Henry Henderson with Professional Communications in Blacksburg.
Professional Communications maintains the radio equipment and 911 systems for the police departments in the New River Valley. Digital transmissions are difficult to monitor because there are several digital formats, Henderson said.
“Some of the digital formats you are able to monitor, but it costs a lot to buy a receiver that actually does that,” he said. “It’ll cost around $500, and if you buy it for one format, you’re not necessarily able to use that for the others.”
Radford Deputy Chief Angie Frye said the inability to be monitored is “an officer safety benefit” because, for example, individuals who have scanners in their homes and are about to be served arrest or search warrants can no longer predict an officer’s movement.
But the real benefit is the improved reception, Chief Don Goodman said.
“We have reception in buildings where we didn’t have it before,” Goodman said. “It has improved reception all throughout the city, and when we have good, clear reception, that improves our officers’ safety.”
The switch, however, is costly, which is one of the reasons neighboring jurisdictions have yet to make a move.
Frye said the department applied for a $210,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice of Community Oriented Policing Services in August 2008 for equipment for the department’s new building, which opened in May 2011.
The department used the grant money to purchase radio system equipment that would allow for them to remain analog but eventually switch to digital. The department later paid Professional Communications about $1,500 for the labor involved in making the switch, which officially happened on Nov. 13, Frye said.
Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Bradley St. Clair said the main reason the sheriff’s office is staying analog – at least for now – is because of its larger jurisdiction.
“We’re so much more spread out, and with analog, you can go in and out and sometimes have spotty reception, but with digital, you either have it in an area or you don’t,” St. Clair said.
St. Clair said he thinks going digital will work well for a smaller city like Radford. But Montgomery County doesn’t have the infrastructure to go digital, which is expensive, he added.
“It’s going to be a really good thing for them, but for Montgomery County, because we’re so much more spread out, we would have to add more tower sites to go digital,” he said.
Radford police can still easily communicate with other localities by switching their radios back to analog, Goodman said.
And he said the department will continue to communicate with the community.
“Our job is to keep the community informed of things that go on, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Goodman said. “We’re not trying to hide anything.”
But scanners may slowly pick up less and less. Henderson said that eventually, all departments will make the switch.
“The development of technology is evolving, and going forward, it’s going to be more difficult to monitor public safety,” Henderson said. “It will eventually all be digital.”
A representative of the Radford University Police Department could not be reached for comment about that department’s switch to a digital system.
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