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Detroit Free Press – August 20, 2013

Detroit’s police communications systems went down again overnight, the second time the system crashed this summer.

The emergency radio system stopped working properly at 1:40 a.m., leaving Detroit Police officers out at shooting scenes with only their personal cell phones for communication, according to a Detroit Police source. Calls could be dispatched as normal, but officers in some cases were not able to respond using their radios, according to Chief James Craig.

During a brief press conference this morning, Craig sought to assure the public that the outage, which he called sporadic, was an improvement over the 15-hour system crash in July because the responsible people are doing what they need to do to fix the problem. Officials noted that 911 calls were not affected. Craig said that the outage only affected police, however, a police source also said it affected EMS and fire communications.

“I said it would never happen again. I feel bad that it did,” Craig said, noting that he is pleased the system was able to recover using state resources as a fallback.

“Let’s face it, these things do happen,” Craig said.

Corrupt data made its way into the system during an upgrade by Motorola Solutions, Craig said.

The extent of the outage and how close it is to being fixed were not made clear during the press conference, although Craig said the outage had a more significant impact on the northwest part of the city.

Craig said officers were not put in harm’s way during the outage and no emergency calls for service were dropped. Craig noted that he has been on the job for just over a month and that he realizes he does not get a honeymoon period. However, he said officials are attentive to things that are broken in the department and are trying to fix them.

A police official who spoke to the Free Press described a chaotic scene as the system experienced problems this morning.

“They said it wouldn’t happen again,” a member of the department’s command staff said this morning. “We were scrambling around trying to figure out what was going on. We called everybody by cell phone. We had to find the officers to tell them. But we eventually caught up to everyone.”

Officers were at the scenes of at least two shootings when the radio communication went down.

A Detroit Police sergeant discovered a usable channel on the radios and notified the city’s dispatch center. At 6 a.m. today,the departments were still using the alternate channels, according to the police source.

The system went down for about 15 hours on July 5, leading Craig to vow that it wouldn’t happen again.

“We will have accountability,” he said at the time.

Blaming a hardware glitch between dispatch and individual radios, a spokeswoman for Motorola Solutions in July said the company would do troubleshooting to prevent another outage. The company has been providing radio services to the Detroit Police Department since August 2005.

Contact Tammy Stables Battaglia: tbattaglia@freepress.com