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Jefferson Co. officials discuss emergency communications issues

August 06, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

BARDANE, W.Va. -- A meeting Tuesday between the head of Jefferson County's 911 system and local police was tense at times, but the sides began working on several divisive issues regarding 911 operations and a new 911 radio system.

Last week, three police chiefs in Jefferson County complained about the capabilities of a new multimillion dollar radio system for police and firefighters, and one chief said the problems are compounded by a lack of help from the 911 center.

Charles Town Police Chief Barry Subelsky and Ranson Police Chief Bill Roper also complained last week about the 911 center no longer checking for warrants from municipal police departments for people wanted by police officers.

Jeff Polczynski, head of 911, has defended the new digital radio system, saying no radio system provides 100 percent coverage.

Regarding checking for warrants, Polczynski said dispatchers had to use six or seven paper lists -- an inferior approach compared to a computer list that he preferred -- and the lists were sometimes outdated.

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Roper, Subelsky, Harpers Ferry Police Chief Donald Buracker, Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober, Shepherd University Police Department Sgt. John Brown and Shepherdstown Police Chief Terry Bellomy met with Polczynski at the sheriff's department Tuesday morning to hash out issues.

Also at the meeting was Jefferson County Administrator Leslie Smith.

Subelsky told Polczynski that he was a good radio engineer, but Subelsky reiterated his frustration over Polczynski's decision to not check warrants for municipal police departments, among other issues.

"You're not managing this well," Subelsky said.

Subelsky said previously it is important for officers to be able to check if a person is wanted by any other agencies -- like at a traffic stop, for example -- to help prevent a wanted person from getting away from police.

Subelsky told Polczynski he has "been to too many police funerals. I just don't want to see anything where we screw it up," Subelsky said.

Polczynski said he wants to pursue a computerized warrant list that dispatchers can check, and it needs to include Berkeley County.

"I want it to be foolproof as possible. A paper list is not foolproof," Polczynski said.

Boober said he wanted to work on a warrant list plan.

Smith defended Polczynski, listing all the jobs he has undertaken in addition to putting together the new 911 radio system, which could be running this month.

"His burnout concerns me," Smith said.

"I have been working my --- off in this county," Polczynski told the police.

Local police chiefs said last week they have been testing the new radio system and there are areas where the radios cannot transmit.

Problems have arisen in other parts of the country with digital radio systems and state officials are looking into some issues with the radios, according to The Charleston Gazette.

Firefighters have found that the radio's digital signals can be interrupted by background noise or walking into a building, the newspaper reported.

Buracker said he is worried about an officer answering a call in a bar where a loud jukebox might prevent the officer from communicating with other officers.

Subelsky said he is worried about an officer wrestling with a suspect outside a cruiser while a siren is still on and not being able to call for help.

Polczynski said he tested a new radio with a siren and other alarms sounding on a police cruiser and was able to pick up an officer's voice. He said he wanted to look further into the capabilities of the radio system.

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