Cops Have Trouble Funding Wireless Efforts, Need More Room on Radio

Because of funding woes and a lack of technology education, law enforcementagencies are now lagging in their efforts to build wireless infrastructuresnecessary to enhance interoperability, according to a survey released lastweek by the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ).The survey of more than 1,500 law enforcement agencies also shows thatindividual police departments have a critical need for additional radiospectrum or frequencies to communicate with other jurisdictions.

Respondents pointed specifically to the "fragmented nature" of the spectrumallocated to law enforcement. That portion of the spectrum — now fivebands between 25 MHz and 869 MHz — is expected to become even morecongested as the number of wireless users increases overall, according toDOJ.

To help mitigate spectrum-related issues, U.S. Attorney General Janet Renohas asked DOJ Associate Attorney General Ray Fisher to head a new group oninteroperability. Fisher formerly served as president of the Los AngelesPolice Commission, which is a civilian panel that monitors and sets policyfor the Los Angeles Police Department. "It was there that I witnessedfirst-hand the problems that can occur when police can't communicate withone another while responding to a critical tactical situation," Fishersaid.

NIJ director Jeremy Travis said that despite DOJ's efforts to increasespectrum space for law enforcement, police have had to resort to low-techfixes, such as the use walkie-talkies, to communicate. DOJ has been workingfor some time with the U.S. Treasury Department on police interoperabilitythrough the Public Safety Wireless Network Program. DOJ soon will beginpolling fire and other emergency management services to determine whetherthere similar interoperability problems in those sectors.

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