Report: Cell towers cause of Oakland police radio problems

March 29, 2013 9:02:16 PM PDT
Police in Oakland have long complained that their radios were not working properly, and we now know why. ABC7 News has learned that an independent report confirms that cell towers are the culprit. It's a story you'll only see on ABC7.

The problems surrounding Oakland's police radios were magnified last July, the day President Barack Obama appeared at Oakland's Fox Theatre. A large contingent of police was outside to handle problems that could arise from protestors. Many of the officers said they had trouble communicating on their two way radios.

There had been numerous complaints before about the glitches of the new radio system which had just been installed in 2011, the year before. It had been riddled with interference and glitches right from the start.

"They basically try to key the mic and it doesn't work for a variety of different reasons," Oakland Police Officers Association President Barry Donelan said. "And you don't know the time nor the place when it's actually going to break down,"

This report confirms what an internal city investigation found a month after the president's visit, that cell sites were affecting the city's public safety radio system and that their signals were bleeding into radio channels, causing sporadic interference.

As of two months ago, 43 cell sites had been tested. A little over half of them were resolved. Most were AT&T's towers

Donelan says communications may have improved, but his officers still have no confidence in the system. There was another failure Wednesday night.

"Once again the system went down, specifically at the eastern end of our city," Donelan said. "The system wasn't working for a few minutes again."

City Councilmember Libby Schaaf is encouraged that there has been progress, "The system is working better than before," she said. "But the fact that we are still having failures of this magnitude is just not acceptable."

The memo says overall reports of trouble from the field have dropped by 85 percent after many of the cell towers were modified.

Both the Oakland Police Officers Association and Councilmember Schaaf believe the city should look into joining the regional radio system which Alameda and Contra Costa counties use.

In a statement issued late Friday night by AT&T, the company said, "We tested our network last fall and proved that we were operating in compliance with FCC rules. We will review the preliminary report and continue to work with the city to help them resolve their interference concerns."


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