Columbia Police Chief Joe Edwards presented the city council Monday night with an option to remedy problems plaguing the city’s new 800 MHz public safety radio system.
The Motorola STARCOM 21 800 MHz system is a county-wide radio upgrade mandated by the Federal Communications Commission. It is meant to allow non-federal public safety agencies to enjoy increased ability to communicate among departments within and outside the state.
Monroe County’s system went online in April or May, Edwards said. Almost immediately, it was apparent there was a problem in Columbia.
“We have had some major problems transmitting, reaching dispatch and other officers,” Edwards said.
This is especially problematic when officers are responding to calls involving domestic violence, fighting or resisting arrest. The problem came to a head June 27, when an officer who responded to the Jordan Kuykendall home on South Riebeling Street was not able to contact dispatch from inside the residence, where he had just found the body of 17-year-old Erin Schneider, who had been stabbed to death.
“Waterloo’s had no problems with the radio system,” Edwards said. “The (Monroe County) Sheriff’s Department, they haven’t had many problems until they come up to Columbia or they’re down on the other side of the bluffs in the southern part of the county.”
Motorola has studied the problem, Edwards said, and determined the existing antenna, located at the sheriff’s department, is not able to transmit across the geography of Columbia.
“They’ve determined that because we sit right below the bluffs, basically in a hole, that the antennas are just transmitting over the city of Columbia,” Edwards said.
The recommended fix is to install a new antenna on the tower at the Columbia Police Department, at a cost of $300,000 — which Motorola has agreed to pay if Columbia will cover costs associated with its installation. Edwards estimates that to be between $5,000 and $10,000.
“This is something that we’re going to have to do, because with- out it we don’t have interoperability and without it we can’t transmit outside homes in the city of Columbia,” said Edwards, adding that funds received through towing and other fees will help cover some of the cost.
“When we’re outside the cars and when we’re not behind the bluff, it’s a great system,” Edwards said. “When we go into buildings and homes, it’s like we might as well not even take it in with us.”
”The city council gave Edwards the go-ahead to allow Motorola to engineer the solution and move toward completing it. The new antenna could be installed as soon at October, Edwards said.
In other city council news:
- City Engineer Ron Williams said work began Aug. 19 on Cherry Street improvements. It is closed to through traffic and detour signs have been posted.
- Repairs to the Valmeyer Road bridge are scheduled to begin Sept. 9. The road will be closed between Veterans Parkway and D Road for an estimated four to six weeks.
- Aldermen voted to allow Edwards to begin his search for a part-time police officer to replace a part-time officer no longer employed with the department.
- Sue Hezel, owner of Pen2Paper, spoke about the Monroe County Quilt Barn Trail. The program, which seeks to create a tourist destination by placing painted quilt designs on historical buildings, is not limited to barns. Any building can have a quilt, as long as it is 50 or more years old. For more information, visit their Facebook page at Facebook.com/MCBQT.