OPD communication issues investigated after chase

January 27, 2011 7:05:53 PM PST
A potentially life threatening silence is what Oakland police say they faced Wednesday when their radios went dead during a high speed chase through East Oakland. It is a problem they say they have had for years, but one that has been ignored by City Hall.

The police dispatch radios stopped working for five minutes of Wednesday's 10-minute-long chase. Officers could communicate with one another, but they could not get through to dispatch. It was impossible to call for an ambulance for the suspect, who was fatally shot by police. An outside agency had to do it.

The head of Oakland's Police Officers Association says the lives of officers and the public are on the line.

"It's becoming too dangerous for the officers to work out there in the environment they're in," Sgt. Dom Arotzarena said. "We've made several demands, now at some point we might have to take some legal action regarding our safety out there on the streets."

The problem seems to only affect officers in East Oakland.

Thursday morning, Mayor Jean Quan told ABC7 it is not a mechanical issue. She said the officers, and a lack of training, are to blame.

"It's because apparently the new cops and the new dispatchers haven't been trained properly on the radios when they push the emergency button, so it blocks off everybody else," Quan said.

Police say even if it is possible for one officer to cut off an entire dispatch system, that is unacceptable.

Later in the day at a City Hall press conference with the chief by her side, Quan back tracked from her first theory. She says it is now unclear what happened.

"I'm not going to get into the blame game, I think we do it way too much, I just want it fixed," Chief Anthony Batts said.

"He calls it the blame game; I know this has become suddenly a hot issue, I've never heard of this until yesterday," Quan said.

What is clear is the problem with the radios is at least a year and a half old.

"We're not asking for Mercedes or Rolls-Royces, we're asking for the basics, that when you get in, you have a car that works, a computer that works and a radio system that works," Batts said.

Police also say those computer systems only work about half the time. One officer caught up in the radio collapse Wednesday was actually on his way to the repair shop to get the computer fixed when the shooting call came in.