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State officials OK spending money for recording system

March 27, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

A problematic radio and phone recording system at the Washington County Sheriff's Department may be replaced soon, now that state officials have given the law enforcement agency preliminary approval to use emergency cash, a county Emergency Services official said Wednesday.

The state Emergency Numbers Systems Board said the Sheriff's Department can spend up to $28,000 for the equipment, said Washington County Assistant Fire and Rescue Communication Chief Bardonna Woods, who met with the board Tuesday.

While that state board needs approval from its parent agency, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Woods said "it's very, very likely it will go through," and the Sheriff's Department has made the initial moves to buy the equipment.

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The Sheriff's Department will have to seek money from the county, Woods said. Once the Numbers Systems board has full approval, it will reimburse the county for the cost of the recorder, she said.

The main phone and radio recorder for the Sheriff's Department has not worked properly for the last month, police and emergency officials said this week.

"I think it's a significant problem. We rely tremendously on the recorded data," Washington County Emergency Services Director Joe Kroboth said Friday.

The piece of equipment records dispatches to deputies, conversations between patrol cars and any emergency calls to the Sheriff's Department. Those recordings can be used by police to double-check information, and as court evidence.

The Sheriff's Department phone center, of which the recording system is a part, is the backup for the county's 911 system in the event it goes down, Kroboth said.

Sheriff's Department Lt. Randy Wilkinson said last week that there have been problems with the recorder for several weeks.

By Tuesday, the county maintenance department had found a replacement for the 11-year-old machine, he said.

In the meantime, Emergency Services officials are requesting nearly $1 million from the Numbers Systems board to replace the main 911 communications system. The Numbers Systems board receives its money from a monthly 10-cent private telephone tax.

There have been problems recently with the 911 center's recorder, Kroboth said. The 911 call center has lost the equivalent of two weeks of recorded data over the past year, he said.

In addition to replacing the recorder, the new system would be able to identify cell phone callers and locate them on digital maps, Woods said.

Woods said the 911 call center's problems aren't as dire as those of the Sheriff's Department, because the 911 system is newer and replacement parts are easier to find.

Woods said that based on her meetings with the state Numbers Systems board, and on General Assembly bills this session that would raise the telephone tax for 911 systems, she hoped to have a new 911 communications system within three years.

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