Improved communication system coming for Dallas County, city officials

There have been major events in the U.S. and the city of Dallas that have highlighted the need for different law enforcement agencies to be on the same page and communicate with each other.

Despite that, Dallas County and city officials have not had radios that allowed cross-communication between the two since the 1970s. But that will soon change.

A state-of-the-art digital communication system will bring the city and the county high-tech communications by the end of 2018. It’s something Dallas County and city officials have been trying to accomplish for almost a decade.

The September 11, 2001, terror attack showed first responders respond to danger in silos.

“When 9/11 happened, there were different agencies in the towers who couldn’t communicate with each other,” explained Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

It brought an unfunded federal government mandate for first responders to move to universal communication systems. The City of Dallas approached Judge Jenkins about a linked communication system when he first came to office in 2010.

“At the time, it was a $150 million project with 50 million of it coming from the county,” he said.

Four years later, Jenkins faced challenges communicating with police about the security escort of the family at the center of the Dallas Ebola crisis from a county homeland security vehicle.

“I was trying to communicate with DPD, but the radio in that vehicle did not work to communicate with DPD,” the judge recalled. “So a DPD officer drove beside me and handed me a DPD handheld radio so we could all kind of hold our radios together and talk to one another as we moved down the road.”

Even after the communication problem during the Ebola crisis, there was still no coming together on a radio system that would connect the city and the county.

Then, July 6, 2016, happened. Officers in Downtown Dallas were ambushed. Four Dallas police officer and one DART officer were killed. Unless DPD was with sheriff’s deputies or a deputy with police, one agency did not know what the other was doing or needed.

“We have the same basic constituency,” said Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price. “And so it is in the best interest of Dallas County public safety because they’ve got to be able to communicate officer safety. We need this. It’s overdue.”    

Finally, eight years after it was first proposed, DPD and Dallas County communications are moving to the same frequency. It will be a new digital communications system, servers and PC based, that will allow both departments to talk to each other.

“It is long overdue,” Price said. “And we want to thank the city of Dallas for finally bringing this to some closure. Because without them, we couldn’t make it work.”

The price to the county for the new communication system has dropped from $50 million in 2010 to $25 million now, about one-fourth of the total cost.

The city is taking the lead on the system and the price tag. The city council will hear the final presentation on Wednesday.

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