Monday’s 30-mile police chase beginning in Bend and terminating in rural Crook County featured dropped radio calls, distortion and other audio issues that have plagued the Bend Police Department since it switched to a new digital radio system last year.

The chase ended with the arrest of Samuel Wyatt Dennis, 21, on suspicion of several felonies. But at Tuesday’s meeting of the user board of Deschutes 911 — which operates emergency service in Deschutes County — Bend Police Chief Jim Porter used his strongest language yet to call for a timeline for fixing the problems his officers have complained about for months.

Porter raised issues with radio signal penetration inside downtown buildings, as well as the possible need for an antenna at the south end of Bend on Deschutes County Road Department land near Deschutes River Woods.

Porter brought up that these issues have been discussed at earlier meetings and there had been no follow-up.

“Is this ringing any bells? You’re kind of looking blank at me,” Porter said to one district official. “Are we working on figuring out the signal penetration in downtown? Because this is what I’m getting from my troops, that we’re having trouble talking from inside of buildings, where we weren’t having that problem with the old system.”

Deschutes 911 is a service district that provides emergency call-answering and dispatching for 14 county law enforcement and fire agencies. Chiefs from the 14 agencies attend the regular meetings of the user board.

Last year the district transitioned to a new $5 million digital radio system by Harris Corp., and decommissioned its old analog system. All police agencies went live with the new system in July 2017, with a plan to add the fire agencies in the fall.

Problems with the new system were felt by officers immediately after the system went live, and dozens of complaint tickets have been filed each week since. From July 10 to 16, users filed 59 complaint tickets, 17 of which related to in-building coverage.

The tech transition also involved moving local agencies’ scanner feeds to a website, where they run on a 30-minute delay.

County management officials confirmed there was no formal project timeline, though County Administrator Tom Anderson said the Harris project is included in the county’s strategic planning documents.

The radio system project manager, Tim Beuschlein, said technicians would audit downtown buildings using radio equipment in the coming weeks.

A call to Harris’ spokeswoman was not returned Tuesday.

Former district Director Steve Reinke stepped down in March.

Deschutes 911 Director Sara Crosswhite agreed to help develop a written timeline with goals to ensure the project is successful.

The only member of the public attending the meeting, Scot Brees, for the second straight month warned there wouldn’t be enough time to fix the radio problems before the district’s fire agencies are added to the Harris system.

“When you roll those agencies in, you’re going to have problems,” Bree said.

Bob Madden, deputy chief of operations for Bend Fire Department, said programming of the agency’s new radios will begin in the next few weeks. How they perform will help determine when they move to Harris.

“Our hope is to go to the new Harris system,” he said. “Whether it’s this fall remains to be seen. A permanent radio tower planned for Overturf Butte is going through the permitting process. A temporary signal tower, housed in a trailer, is currently operating near the top of the butte.

The permanent tower would be a wooden pole no taller than 35 feet, per city code. Porter said his officers would like to assist the effort by knocking on doors in the Overturf neighborhood to tell people about the benefits of the project and assuage possible fears about the tower.

“I want to let people know this isn’t going to be some monster Eiffel Tower thing,” he said.

Porter praised the agency’s handling of a busy Fourth of July in Bend and said the radio issue is more frustrating because Deschutes 911 is “doing so much right.”

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

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