More problems with Oakland police radios

- It's happening again. The radio system for the Oakland Police Department has been going silent once more over the past month or so, and officers say losing their radios puts them in danger, especially because it means they can't call for help.

The  most recent failure lasted about 15 minutes, beginning at about 11 p.m. Friday.

Dispatchers suddenly one's talking to them.

"Can anyone copy radio?" one dispatcher says.

Dispatch tries every channel.

"Can Patrol 2 copy radio?"

But silence.

After more than three minutes, dispatchers give up. No one can talk to each other.

"It's one of the most dangerous situations you can ever deal with, right?" said David Cruise, the city of Oakland's former public safety systems advisor.

"You've got the inability to call for help in the field, and you have the inability to relay information from the 911 center to the field. So we already have a huge problem there."

With no other recourse, the dispatchers on Friday night instructed officers to meet with their sergeant, either at police headquarters downtown or the Eastmont substation in East Oakland.

Dispatch tells the sergeants to call them -- once they know that their officers are safe.

"All sergeants 914 (call dispatch) when all your units are accounted for."

It's the latest problem for Oakland police's troubled radio system, and officers say they are tired of breakdowns that jeopardize their safety. 

In 2012, the radios even went down during a visit by President Obama.

Cruise, who left the city last year, says the department is transitioning to a new East Bay regional radio system. But it's been two years since the city first authorized that change.

"So i think, really for the residents, for the first responders' sake, the city needs to treat this like an emergency and get those radios onto the east bay regional network as quickly as possible," Cruise said.

Oakland police officials declined to go on camera today.

But KTVU has obtained an internal memo from Chief Sean Whent telling his officers that the system failed because of a "malfunction of the control channel." When that happens, the whole network goes down. No channels work.

The chief said the department is trying to speed up the transition to the new radio system.

He wrote, "I share your frustration and am in regular contact with city technology staff and the city administrator trying to expedite this process. As more information becomes available, we will update you."

And regular updates, of course, are important. Without constant communication, officers are in the dark.

Oakland City Administrator Sabrina Landreth issued a statement today saying city staff has been "urgently working" to make sure the current system is reliable while at the same time transitioning over as soon as possible to the new radio system by this spring.

For now, they say they've set up a contingency system using back-up radios in case of an emergency.


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