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Sydney Morning Herald
Police fury over $3m radio link 'nightmare'
By BEN HILLS
A police emergency operator listened in helpless horror as two men battered down the door of a house and abducted a young child while he was unable to trace the telephone call because of a fault in the new police communications system.
At Liverpool in Sydney's south-west, a radio blackout left police patrol cars responding to an emergency unaware that four police would be needed to subdue a man who was running around a unit complex armed and under the influence of drugs.
On another night last week, police again lost radio contact with dog squad units involved in a high-speed chase, and "a situation involving a radioactive object".
Earlier, police failed to pick up a "signal one" - a call which means an officer is in trouble.
These are among scores of complaints which have been flooding police e-mail networks since a new $3 million communications nerve centre at NSW Police headquarters came into operation a fortnight ago.
The new system was hyped by the Government as the high-tech answer to the State's security needs for the Olympics and beyond.
The communication consoles, built by the US communications giant Motorola, would be the first stage of a new $27 million digital radio network to replace an outdated analog system.
But the operations officer in charge of the unit, Ms Jeanette Wardrobe, wrote to the Police Commissioner, Mr Peter Ryan, last week to call for it to be "immediately overhauled and rendered safe before an officer or a member of the public is killed".
At a meeting on Tuesday, about 30 police working in the communications centre threatened industrial action and called for a public inquiry into the letting of the contract.
The Herald revealed last year that the Motorola bid had been accepted, in spite of the fact that it was $800,000 more expensive than a rival bid, and its own expert had warned that the tender was only 60 per cent compliant with police specifications.
An internal police investigation into the matter was concluded eight months ago. Its report, which recommended action against officers, awaits a decision by Assistant Commissioner Ken Maroney.
E-mails leaked to the Herald indicate the new system, which involves three apparently incompatible technologies, is, in the words of one officer, "a nightmare".
Entire areas of Sydney, including Berowra, Bexley and Bardwell Park, are "totally dead to radio". In the Brooklyn-Berowra area north of Sydney and at Hurstville, station commanders have had to resort to using mobile phones to communicate with their patrols.
According to radio-room operators, the new system is prone to dropping out, has such poor sound quality that on some occasions controllers have to repeat directions seven or eight times, has technical deficiencies such as being unable to take "conference calls" when interpreters are needed, and is frequently overloaded.
Operators have reported a number of "illegal transmissions," including what appeared to be a commercial radio station broadcasting on the police frequency.
Technical problems mean that emergency 000 calls may drop out and cannot be answered as quickly as before.
Police anger has been fuelled by the response of a superior to a complaint that "officer safety is definitely being compromised". He is said to have replied: "If you can't handle the heat get out of the kitchen."
The Public Service Association's senior industrial officer, Mr Greg O'Donoghue, said the new system had been rushed into operation in spite of warnings that it was not operating to specifications.
-- viewer (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 09, 2000
wo. There's something eerily ILLUSTRATIVE about this glitch. Shades of things to come.
-- Squirrel Hunter (email@example.com), March 09, 2000.
Sydney Olympics 2000....soon!
-- Pieter (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 09, 2000.
Hmmmm, the city's emergency systems don't work. Law-abiding citizens were disarmed. Criminal violence is increasing. What a great time and place for an Olympics.... Pieter, I sympathise with your country.
-- Craig (email@example.com), March 09, 2000.