Officials with Deschutes County’s 911 service district continue to say the district is doing everything possible to work out significant problems with its new digital radio system.

But Leo Lotito, president of the Bend Police officer’s union, said “nothing is working,” and “every day” Bend officers are filing tickets related to their new radios.

“We’re still waiting for one good day,” Lotito said. “They’re bringing in technicians and engineers and consultants and religiously trying to work out the problems, but it’s just not working.”

Deschutes 911’s analog-to-digital upgrade has been beset by problems since it went live in July. Things got so bad by December, the system shut down completely, prompting the officer’s union to file a grievance with the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

This week, officers were still reporting dropped calls and wildly varying call volume. Lotito said the biggest problem of the day on Tuesday was distortion.

“This all should have been worked out before the system went live,” he said.

According to Steve Reinke, director of Deschutes 911, the district promptly reported problems directly to the vendor of the $4 million system, Harris Corp. Engineers with Harris conducted an audit of the system and found a number of improperly configured settings that appear to be the primary source of the problems, Reinke said.

Harris’ project leads in Bend weren’t able to fix the issues raised by police and other users of the system, according to Reinke, but he acknowledged the district should have recognized the extent of the problems sooner and acted more aggressively.

On Tuesday, the Deschutes County 911 User Board discussed several steps being taken to address user concerns.

For one, Deschutes County is nearly done creating a management-level engineering position to oversee the new radio and other technical systems. The new “deputy director of 911 technical systems” will earn between $107,940 and $144,650.

“We really feel we really need that person with an engineering background,” said Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Henderson.

Reinke said his office’s technical team has grown fast in recent years and adding the new technical director position is a logical next step. Prior to 2016, Deschutes 911 didn’t even provide law enforcement radio service, and the police radio system it inherited at the time was 20 years old.

Redmond Fire Chief Tim Moor said he supports the creation of a engineering manager position at Deschutes 911.

“Philosophically, my opinion is that Deschutes 911 shouldn’t be relying on a vendor to fix our radio problems,” Moor said.

An outside engineering firm will also be selected to conduct an audit into what went wrong with the Harris system.

This move was supported by Bend Police Chief Jim Porter, who has been critical of the district’s handling of his officers’ original complaints.

The sites of additional and temporary radio towers are also being studied. About $1.4 million has been set aside in the district’s 2018-2019 budget for construction of additional radio sites, which is expected to improve radio coverage.

And looming further out, all fire districts in Deschutes 911’s service area are scheduled to make the switch to Harris radios. The district is hoping to avoid a repeat of this summer’s botched roll-out.

Bend Fire Department Operations Chief Bob Madden said the department originally hoped to migrate to the new system by March. Now, seeing all the issues police have had, Madden said the plan is to wait until after the summer fire season and move to Harris by September or October.

“A year ago we thought we could be on the new system by summer, but it’s going to be fall, with all the problems they’re having.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, gandrews@bendbulletin.com

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