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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Police to revamp radio system

By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Three years after Honolulu police switched to a $20 million digital communication system that turned out to be riddled with problems, the city is preparing to replace or upgrade nearly 4,000 police radios.

The goal is to ensure that officers and dispatchers always hear each other clearly — and that outsiders can't eavesdrop — said Honolulu police radio engineer Myron Yamaki.

"Hopefully, it will improve the quality of digital voice transmissions and provide some security for officers," he said.

About 1,900 radios in police vehicles must be reprogrammed so that firefighters, lifeguards and public safety officials can eventually use the same system, he said.

And 1,800 police hand-held radios are now obsolete and must be replaced. Yamaki said the changeover is to begin in November and likely will take three months.

Officers complained of transmission "dead spots" and other dangerous glitches when the digital system was activated in 1998, so the Police Department reverted to its old analog mode within weeks. The system was slated for $7.5 million in upgrades, but its total cost was not available yesterday.

Yamaki could not say whether the contractor, M/A-COM, would charge the city for the new gear, though police spokeswoman Michelle Yu said there would be no additional charge for the reprogramming. Officials from the city's Design and Construction Department did not return calls, nor did city spokeswoman Carol Costa.

Yamaki said the upgraded digital system, when working properly, should provide clearer communications that criminals cannot monitor with scanners available from radio supply stores.

Digital radios convert a user's voice to numbers that are "read" by receiving radios that are specially programmed to decode the transmissions.

News media that cover police actions still will be allowed to hear some broadcasts if they purchase the proper equipment, Yamaki said, but civilian radio enthusiasts will not.

That's unfortunate for the many O'ahu residents who regularly tune in to police radio traffic, said David Cabatu, a local radio club member who maintains a Web site where hobbyists exchange information.

"For us to lose the ability to listen in is bad news for us," Cabatu said. "I use the scanner as a service to know what's going on."

Ericsson, the original contractor commissioned for the city's radio project, has been sold twice since the effort began. In April, the company was purchased by M/A-COM, a subsidiary of Tyco International, an $80 billion company based in Bermuda.