BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The city is planning to spend $750,000 to eliminate “dead spots” that have plagued the police department’s radio communication system for decades.
Mayor Bill Scanlon said the problem has sometimes forced police officers to walk outside of a building or move to a different location in order to communicate on their portable radios.
Scanlon said the dead spots have existed “probably for 50 years,” but he does not know of a time when they have led to a serious public safety incident.
“It’s more of an inconvenience, but potentially, I suppose it could,” he said.
Scanlon informed city councilors of the communications flaw while presenting his 2014 budget proposal last week at City Hall.
He said the system has “multiple geographic dead spots” that have existed since the systems were first installed decades ago and called the flaws “obviously unacceptable.”
Scanlon said he only learned about the problem recently during preparations for the city to join the Essex County Regional Emergency Communications Center that is set to open this year.
Police Chief Mark Ray said portable radio deficiencies worsened this year when police converted to “narrowbanding” broadcasting that was mandated by the Federal Communications Commission starting Jan. 1.
The dead spots are more prevalent in Beverly Farms and in older buildings, such as Cummings Center, that don’t have updated technology, Ray said.
Scanlon said the $750,000 will be used to lay underground fiber lines between the police station and Beverly Farms and to install a “repeating device” at a halfway point to help pick up signals.
Ray is also requesting $160,000 in the police department budget to buy 80 new portable radios. He said the communication problems are mostly with the portable radios, not the radios inside police cruisers.
“I see these steps as eliminating these communication problems,” Ray said.
Beverly is preparing to join the new $10 million regional dispatch center later this year. On the grounds of the Middleton jail, the center will handle emergency calls for six communities.
Maurice Pratt, a spokesman for the dispatch center, said it’s not unusual for police departments to have problems with their portable radios.
“One hundred percent coverage on those portable radios is very rare,” Pratt said. “Mayor Scanlon wants to make his system the best it can be. We’re impressed by that.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.