Miami-Dade Police

Problems force Miami-Dade police to temporarily shelve its new encrypted radio system

 

Garbled conversations and a flawed emergency button are forcing Miami-Dade police to shelve the department’s new $25-million encrypted radio system designed to stop civilians from monitoring police.

crabin@MiamiHerald.com

Miami-Dade County police are preparing to temporarily shelve a new $25 million radio system because of a series of flaws that are worse than originally believed.

Last week, the department turned off the digitally encrypted transmission portion of the new system, but continued to use the radios, after officers complained of garbled conversations, robot-like echoes and a slight delay in transmission when the red button is pushed on top of the hand-held device that alerts dispatch when an officer is in trouble.

This week, it was disclosed that there also are “dead zones” throughout the county where the system doesn’t broadcast properly, and that computers used by dispatchers continued to crash.

Most of the problems have been in the south end of the county.

Miami-Dade Police Maj. Nancy Perez said Wednesday the department would go back to the old system by the end of the week.

“It’s a problem and a concern, a public concern,” said County Commissioner Sally Heyman.

Miami-Dade police switched to the controversial encrypted system last month in an attempt to deter criminals from monitoring police activity. The old, analog system that police used could easily be tracked through applications that one could download from the Internet.

The encrypted system — when working correctly — also will partially block many media outlets’ ability to get a jump on reaching crime scenes.

Officials did not say how long it would take to fix the system, but assured county commissioners that more than 30 engineers and technicians from Harris Corp., which supplied the product, are on the ground working on it.

During the first three weeks after the system was activated, police processed more than one million calls.

Speaking before county commissioners Wednesday, Deputy Police Director Juan Perez said no one has a greater stake in repairing the system than police. He said the system works most of the time — but that’s not enough.

“We don’t want to fail one time, because that could be catastrophic,” he said.

The flaws were enough of a concern last week that Police Director J.D. Patterson released a memo to his 2,600 officers telling them of the problems, and alerting them of the switch back to analog. The police department issued a statement Wednesday saying it was confident that Harris Corp. would resolve the issues.

The problems with the radios seemed to have caught Heyman and others on the commission’s public safety committee by surprise. At one point during Wednesday’s meeting, Heyman said she learned of the flaws only after reading about them in the newspaper, then being told of problems by patrol officers.

“I find that unacceptable,” said Heyman, who chairs the committee.

Angel Petisco, the county’s director of information technology, noted that the county is paying only $25 million for a system that could cost upward of $160 million. Heyman waited patiently before saying, “It’s no bargain if it doesn’t work.”

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