The new Michigan State Police public safety radio
communication system is in trouble. It duplicates systems already in
place, is behind schedule and is millions of dollars over budget. The
Legislature can rescue this boondoggle by allowing local municipalities to
piggyback on the state system's towers.
Five years ago, the State Police received a $180 million contract to
develop its own statewide radio system. The Michigan Public Safety
Communications System was intended to upgrade state police communication
capabilities and to allow as many as 16,000 local units of government to
be part of that process.
The system features mobile radio coverage using 181 tower sites. The
last of four phases is being completed.
The project, however, has been plagued with problems. It is three years
behind schedule, underused, $54 million dollars over budget and, by most
accounts, technologically obsolete.
Key among its shortcomings is that the system was constructed under the
"Field of Dreams" theory -- "build it and they will come." Only about 3
percent of eligible law enforcement subscribers across Michigan have
partnered with the State Police. The state system is criticized as being
poorly constructed, expensive and lacking the range of mobile coverage
needed for police patrols.
In addition, the State Police signed an exclusive contract with
Motorola as the service provider. The Motorola equipment, say critics, is
not on par with other systems on the market. So rather than attracting
users, the State Police system competes with them.
Oakland County, for example, decided to go it alone. Oakland has a $30
million countywide police and fire radio system that is more advanced than
the state's. But when the county requested to hang some of its equipment
on a 500-foot tower in Addison Township used by the State Police, it was
Bob Daddow, who works for the Oakland County executive's office, says
the intent is obvious: By preventing local governmental units from hanging
antennas on its towers, the State Police compel them to use the state
police system. Without access to the towers, Oakland County will be forced
to build two 250-foot towers of its own at a cost of $2.2 million to the
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard says the police and fire
agencies ought to be working together to make the most efficient use of
"Given the assurance that we won't interfere with their radio, and
given the assurance that it won't cause any structural problems, it's a
win for public safety," he told The News. "A more efficient radio system
is created for the agencies using it, and it's a win for the taxpayers who
have already paid for the towers once."
State Police officials did not return our phone calls.
The Legislature should end the wasteful competition. Requiring the
State Police to share its towers would enhance coverage areas and provide
better communication for all concerned.