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Published: Wednesday, 7/28/2004

Monroe County: Michigan, Ohio work to tie statewide police networks

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - It won't be long before Monroe County Sheriff's Deputy Joe Lambert will have a brand new, state-of-the-art radio with which to patrol the roadways just north of the border.

And thanks to ongoing discussions at the highest levels of state government in Michigan, Ohio, and Lucas County, Deputy Lambert and his counterparts in Ohio may soon be able to speak with each other as if their cruisers were parked window-to-window along State Line Road.

Officials from the governors' offices in Michigan and Ohio are in discussions to tie together their statewide radio networks, a move that would help end the all-too-common practice of scofflaws racing toward the state line to make good their getaways.

The radio tie-ins - which go by the ignominious title of "interoperability" - will allow law enforcement and firefighters in one state to call for assistance from another without the potential delay or confusion of involving others in the conversation.

"We're going to have some meetings to make sure which agencies we can connect to," said Monroe County Sheriff's Sgt. David Thompson, who is leading up the local effort to build Monroe County's new $9.3 million radio system. "They're talking at the state level, and when they're done, we should be able to make it happen."

Monroe County is within six months of bringing its new radio system online with Michigan's existing 800-mhz system. But it may be a few years yet before those south of the border are able to catch up technologically.

Lucas County is awaiting bid packages on a new 800-mhz radio system that, for the first time, will tie together emergency workers from a vast array of jurisdictions onto one communications net, said Dennis Cole, director of emergency services for Lucas County.

"We were actually working toward that before Sept. 11," Mr. Cole said. Toledo's 800-mhz system, which it has had for more than a decade, is no longer serviceable and must be upgraded, Mr. Cole said. At the same time, the remaining jurisdictions in Lucas County continue to operate on their own radio systems, independent of everyone else.

"The timing is right, because Toledo needs to upgrade its system," Mr. Cole said. The bids for a countywide system for Lucas County will be opened Sept. 1, but early estimates peg the cost at between $35 million and $40 million.

As part of that upgrade, Lucas County will tie into a statewide 800-mhz system currently under construction across Ohio. Called the Multi Agency Radio Communications System, or MARCS, the system hopes to tie all of Ohio's emergency workers together eventually onto a single system similar to the one operating in Michigan, explained Joe Deppen, a Motorola representative working on the MARCS system.

"We're still in the process of constructing the system. We'll be finishing up later this year in southeast Ohio, and by the time we're done, we'll have about 5,000 radios on it," Mr. Deppen said.

"The biggest issue we have is jumping the state line," said Mike Koontz, a consultant working through the Lucas County Sheriff's Department as the countywide radio system coordinator. "With Monroe, we're looking at a way to either share frequencies or share talk groups. We're progressing on that."

Mr. Koontz said that, over the years, emergency workers have found ways to communicate with their counterparts across the state line, even if it took a little more time to do.

"We're pretty fortunate in the way our public safety people have worked together in our counties, but it's pretty antiquated," Mr. Koontz said, adding that improving those ties with communications systems that can talk to each other can only help emergency workers do their jobs better.

"We have an issue of lives involved in this," Mr. Koontz said. "But whenever you're doing with something like this, you're dealing with emergency workers lives, and you just can't skimp on something like this."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091



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