Crime

Miami-Dade police radio system finally in place — a year late and without encryption

Juan Perez, deputy director of Miami-Dade police, said there’s no timetable on when those transmission frequencies would finally be blocked.
Juan Perez, deputy director of Miami-Dade police, said there’s no timetable on when those transmission frequencies would finally be blocked. EL Nuevo Herald File

The Miami-Dade County Police Department’s new $165 million radio transmission system is finally up and running — but almost a year after it was shelved for technical glitches and without the encrypted frequencies police wanted so the public and media would be blocked from chasing their calls.

The original system, supplied by Harris Corp. for 14,000 hand-held devices for cops from deep South Miami-Dade to the county’s northeastern corridor, was sent back to the lab three weeks after it was installed last May. Officers had complained of hearing garbled voices and a slight delay with a button on the radio police can press during emergencies.

The system now in place only cost the county $25 million because of a settlement between another radio provider, Nextel South Corp., and dozens of law enforcement agencies around the country that received faulty service radios years ago.

In a memo last week outlining the new service, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez noted that Harris Corp., which picked up the cost for correcting the system, also replaced antennas at two radio sites in the county’s south end, where most of the problems occurred.

“The system is successfully processing millions of calls each month and is substantially capable of processing more calls upond demand,” the mayor said.

Miami-Dade Deputy Police Director Juan Perez said the county has delayed installing encrypted radio frequencies that would have blocked public access to all but calls to police headquarters “because we want to make sure the whole system is stable, first.” Perez said there’s no timetable on when those transmission frequencies would finally be blocked, and that some specialized undercover units already have blocked frequencies in place.

The police department says it wants them blocked to combat specialized apps that have been created that allows anyone with Internet access to follow police calls. That could make crime scenes or stakeouts dangerous, police said.

In a meeting last year between police and representatives from local media outlets, news reporters complained that blocking the frequencies would hamper their reporting efforts.

Last May, Miami-Dade police detective Alvaro Zabaleta said as the system stands now, “a hostage-taker can follow what’s going on. You’re giving them the upper hand.”

The system was originally installed last April, but during the first three weeks officers mostly in the south end complained of hearing robotic-like echoes during conversations. There was also a problem with the transmission of a signal from a small emergency red button on top of the cellphone-like device that police can press when they’re in trouble.

The radio system is a key lifeline for police officers. Miami-Dade police use the system to handle about 90 million calls a year.

The new system replaces a 20-year-old system and upgrades four existing towers, replaces dozens of dispatch consoles for police, fire and transit, and upgrades three backup power generators.

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