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The Blue & Gray Press | November 18, 2017

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Police Radios Spaz Out

By MILES DUMVILLE

When UMW Police Officer Joseph Kauffman made an arrest on Thornton Street Feb. 5, his radio was not working.  He was forced to thumb through his cell phone contacts to report the arrest to the police station.

This potentially dangerous situation of radio malfunctions is not the only instance UMW officers have experienced.

Officer Joe Gagliardi, who can usually be found patrolling campus on his bicycle, described the malfunction as a “squelching” that distorts what someone is trying to say to him on the radio.

He added that he has the most issues on nightshift in the rain. “It’s been a problem,” Gagliardi said.

Officer Wallace Jannish added that he too experiences the same phenomenon.  “It’s only when it’s overcast,” Jannish said.

Police Chief James Snipes explained that not only are unreliable radio systems a hazard because of the inability to radio for help while on duty, but also because officers must perform FCC time checks, announcing their call numbers every hour.  If one officer is unable to respond, they are considered missing and personnel must be sent to search for them, creating a loss of manpower.

Snipes stressed the importance of adequate equipment for his officers.

“They can’t do their jobs without functioning equipment,” Snipes said.

University Director of Environmental Health and Safety Ruth Lovelace considers such malfunctions a problem and said that she was not informed of this most recent incident until she had read about it in last week’s issue of the Bullet.

In regard to public safety, Lovelace said “communications is always the weakest link.  It will always be the weakest link.”

Upon finding out about Officer Kauffman’s incident, she immediately called David Hatcher, the UMW Warehouse Manager.

Hatcher explained that radio problems, not necessarily malfunctions, have previously occurred.

“In the past year we’ve called for issues twice,” Hatcher said about past incidents.

“For whatever reason, we can’t put a finger on what happened in this particular instance,” Hatcher said in regard to last week’s malfunction.

Convinced that the problem is not with the radios themselves, Lovelace said that dead spots between the radios and repeaters, the transmitters used to send messages to all other radios, could be the culprit.

“We also happen to live in an area of high-level security concerns,” said Lovelace, who believes that interference from radio systems at nearby military and national security installations such as Marine Corps Base Quantico and Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren could distort radio contact.

Snipes added that the department has used the same model of radio for six to seven years and that atmospheric conditions affecting their signal is not uncommon.

University police officers use Kenwood hi-band radios, which cost approximately $400 each.

The police have about 20 radios in total, and Lovelace has access to 20 more that can be adjusted to any necessary frequency in a radio cache.  At this time, three repeaters are located on campus, costing approximately $10,000 each.

According to Lovelace, repairs are typically a matter of adjusting frequencies between repeaters and radios to limit the possibilities of dead spot areas, such as the parking garage by Goolrick Gym.

Lovelace talked to Hatcher about setting up a radio field survey, which will determine how to better adjust the radio system.

Although no date has been set for the survey, an expert from the Virginia Information Technologies Agency will visit campus Feb. 22 to make recommendations for one.