Borough police changing frequencies

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Kelly Orsni, a dispatcher for the Naugatuck Police Department for 23 years, works at the newly renovated dispatch center on Friday. The Naugatuck Police Department is ready to switch over to the federally mandated new radios after a communication upgrade that exceeded $1million. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Borough police are preparing to switch as early as this week to a new digital radio system after a $1.1 million upgrade.

“I think for me and for the borough, when you invest in new technology, you want to do it right the first time and as complete the first time as you practically can within budget,” Chief Christopher Edson said.

The department began the project after learning the FCC was requiring them to operate on a narrower band by the end of this year, Edson said. Watertown voters two years ago approved a $1.9 million communications upgrade to comply with the same mandate.

Borough police radios currently transmit information using phone lines, but after the switch they will use data lines similar to modern Internet connections, Edson said. The upgrade includes all new radios for the force of about 60 officers, new computer equipment for the dispatchers and a complete renovation of the dispatch center.

Torrington spent $443,000 on a new digital system that the city switched to more than a year ago, but they moved back to analog transmissions because the new system dropped calls and made conversations hard to understand. The city’s upgrade also included technology that would encrypt the frequency.

Torrington’s new system transmitted information on data and phone lines, but city officials were told last month that they might have to upgrade to more expensive microwave equipment because data lines are fickle during bad weather.

Torrington’s problems might not necessarily be replicated in the borough because of differences in topography and technology, Edson said.

“I don’t anticipate any issues with that,” he said. “We’re not really changing it. We’ve always had very good coverage here in town.”

The project the police department originally wanted, with microwave transmissions, more repeater towers and a system that would allow all sites to broadcast simultaneously, would have cost $5 million, Edson said.

While all these upgrades were going on, the equipment the police department uses for 911 calls and transmissions was being phased out and its warranty was expiring. Edson asked the Board of Mayor and Burgesses two months ago to approve nearly $29,000 in new equipment from Business Electronics Inc. of Cheshire, the same provider the department had used in the past.

The police department did not have time to go out to bid for the new equipment and get it installed at the same time as the radio upgrade, Edson said.

Burgesses voted to grant Edson a bid waiver for the equipment, but Mayor Robert Mezzo voted against it, citing a provision in the charter that purchases totaling more than $5,000 must be competitively bid.

The police department’s dispatch center was gutted and completely redone while new equipment was installed. Dispatchers pushed buttons before, but now they can access the communications system on computers.

“The dispatchers have transitioned to the new computer-based radio very easily,” Edson said. “Everything’s been working well.”

The fire and public works departments were also required to reband their radios. The fire department spent about $400 last year to have their radios worked on but still has to get a new radio for the dispatch center, Fire Chief Ken Hanks said.

The public works department spent $25,000 to comply with the mandate, which required them to replace radios that were so old they could not be rebanded, said Sandra Lucas-Ribeiro, public works secretary.

Most of the police department’s money for the project was spent on software and new radios because the warranties were expiring on the old ones, Edson said. He thinks the new system will be good for 20 years.

“In the long run, it’ll be cheaper to do it right the first time than it would be to do it cheap and then continually have problems,” Edson said.