Bend police need better radio coverage

About 20 percent of Bend is a dead zone for Bend police radios, police estimate. Officers can’t radio dispatch if they see something that needs attention. They can’t call for help if they are in trouble.

That’s not safe for the public. It’s not safe for emergency personnel.

It needs to change and it’s one of the reasons why Deschutes County law enforcement and emergency responders are working on a multi-million dollar plan to upgrade the radio system.

Bend Police Lt. Chris Carney could readily tick off examples where he or other officers could not get anyone on a radio. That information could be useful to criminals, so we are not going to go into detail. Bend Police Chief Jeff Sale said he was not aware of Bend’s dead zones contributing to a serious incident since he became police chief in Bend in 2011.

But he was surprised the department had not made more of an issue of the problem, because dead zones have contributed to serious issues in other parts of the country.

County emergency personnel are just getting started on what a new system might look like. Improved coverage is only one issue. Different law enforcement, emergency personnel and other government agencies also need to be able to easily communicate with each other. The Forest Service may not need to talk to the Bend Police every day on the radio, but there can be days during wildfire season when it’s important.

It’s too early to say with any certainty, but this sort of upgrade is likely to be expensive, perhaps $20 million to $30 million, Deschutes 911 Director Rob Poirier has said. The various agencies and departments do not have that kind of money saved up. They may request a bond. Spencer Bahner of Sparling, a Seattle-based consulting and engineering firm, is coming up with options at different price points. That process may be finished in August.

When officers click the mike to talk, they need to be heard.