Radio equipment sits atop Saddle Mountain near Juneau. The Juneau Police Department shares this equipment with other agencies. JPD is currently operating on a radio system that was dated to stop working eight years ago and faces an $11 million gap in funding to pay for a new one according to the police chief who presented a slideshow on the topic at the Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night. (Courtesy photo / Juneau Police Department)

Juneau Police Department seeks to update radio system

The department faces an $11 million gap in funding to pay for a new one

The Juneau Police department needs a new radio system — and has for the past eight years, according to Chief Ed Mercer.

JPD is currently operating on a radio system that was dated to stop working eight years ago and is looking to replace it but faces an $11 million gap in funding to pay for it, Mercer said while presenting a slideshow on the topic at the Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night. Mercer’s presentation outlined the police and fire departments’ need for a new radio system as the current system is no longer reliable and could realistically stop working at any time.

“If we don’t move forward with anything, the system will eventually break and we will have no way of fixing them,” Mercer said.

Mercer outlined three options the city could take to provide funding for a new radio system which is expected to cost between $13.6 million and $15.5 million and would be expected to last around 15 years before another replacement would be necessary.

How the system will be paid for us unclear, according to Mercer’s presentation, although he said grants may be available as well. Other sources of funding would come from a $500,000 general fund appropriation along with $2 million proposed to pull funds from the temporary 1% sales tax ballot initiative that is set to hit this fall’s municipal ballot.

“With the lack of dependability and access, we need something that is working all the time,” Mercer said. He said the police department is struggling to find the parts necessary to address any issues with the current system as the company that JPD used no longer exists.

He also noted the radio system lacks significant coverage throughout Juneau with only 49% coverage in commercial buildings and 57% coverage in wood frame residences and provides no GPS coverage for portable radio and no encryption.

Assembly member Carole Triem said she was shocked that the current radio system was only designed for an eight-year lifespan, and was also shocked at how high the cost is for the replacement given its short life span as well.

“We are planning to think about new financing for ongoing IT-related costs,” said Robert Barr, the deputy city manager. “The best we can do is speculate how long the systems will be supported and be cautiously optimistic that they will be able to prolong the system.”

Rorie Watt, the city manager, also said that the cost surprised him but said it is important to remember how costly large-scale technology can be in a rapidly changing industry and is difficult to follow.

“I am generally horrified by the technology costs of everything I see,” he said. “I was certainly shocked when I saw the report and we continue to struggle for how long it will last and be supported.”

Watt said the meeting is the first step toward looking at ways to find funding for the project and it will likely be a long time before the project breaks ground even with the lingering fear of the system failing.

“It’s like all other technology, things can just fail,” he said, comparing it similarly to the short life spans of cellphones.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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