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$3M system puts lives at risk, unions say

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Central Oregon law enforcement agencies say a new radio system is performing so poorly it puts lives at risk.

Seven police unions, including officers with Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and Bend Police Department, signed on to a December letter to Oregon OSHA regarding the county’s new $3 million Harris radio system, which went live in July.

Since the switch from an analog system, there have been “numerous” documented complaints at various agencies, according to the OSHA complaint. Calls have failed to transmit for officers involved in foot pursuits and those requesting cover, it states.

“This is an extremely serious situation that has not been fixed and is unacceptable,” the complaint reads.

Bend Police Chief Jim Porter, the management official who is the subject of the complaint, is on vacation. The acting chief did not immediately return a request for comment.

Aaron Corvin, spokesman for Oregon OSHA, officially known as the Occupational Safety & Health Division, said the investigation into the unions’ complaint is active so he cannot comment on possible penalties or outcomes.

A Harris spokeswoman said the company is addressing problems in Deschutes County “day by day.”

“Harris is committed to providing a state-of-the-art communication system for Oregon’s public safety communications users and will continue to work in partnership with the city and county to work through challenges,” the company said in a statement to The Bulletin. “Every customer and system is unique, therefore challenges and solutions are different.”

Steve Reinke, director of the Deschutes County 911 Service District, said the top three complaints from officers, in order, have been calls are difficult to hear due to low volume, calls are difficult to hear because they’re garbled, and volume levels vary, which can lead officers to miss calls because they’ve set their volume too low.

Reinke said the system was thoroughly tested when it was installed. However, there were problems “right away,” and the system has degraded in performance.

Reinke said he alerted Harris as soon as problems were noticed and worked with the company’s in-state engineer on what Harris called “tweaks.” But officer-reported problems grew worse. The system was performing so poorly by December that the system went down completely for a period of time Dec. 27, according to the complaint.

On Jan. 2, Harris’ national office sent two engineers to Deschutes County, and they remain here addressing issues, Reinke said.

The cost of the new system was split with the state through the Oregon State Radio Project.

Brian McNaughton, acting chief of the Redmond Police Department, said officers polled Wednesday at a meeting still reported volume problems with the new radio system. But overall, they reported the situation had improved since the system went live.

McNaughton said he’s heard problems are worse at the larger agencies, Bend Police and the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, because they use multiple signal towers. Redmond uses only one.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325,