For months Deschutes County government has struggled to fix problems with the county’s new $5.5 million digital radio system for law enforcement. Commissioners have criticized the former 911 director Steve Reinke for failing to adequately inform them what was going on.
Then we read in The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Washington, that Deschutes County Administrator Tom Anderson said Reinke dealt with the situation as well as was possible.
No, Reinke did not deal with the situation as well as was possible. Anderson says that was a paraphrase of what he told the reporter. It gives a completely false impression of Reinke’s performance and how it related to the radio system.
Reinke failed to make it clear to commissioners that they were paying $5.5 million for a system quality below the public safety standard. Reinke failed to tell commissioners that it meant that law enforcement would have to repeat messages to be heard because of distortion and noise.
Reinke failed to accurately portray the system the county was buying in other ways. He told commissioners in March 2016 before they voted to buy it that it would be a big improvement. There would be better coverage across the county, “including in dense concrete and steel buildings.” Reinke added: “It will provide remarkable coverage compared to what’s in place today.” Reinke may well have believed that at the time. But he did not make it clear to commissioners that performance could be significantly reduced because a Bend tower was removed from the original system plans.
Reinke also failed to ensure that the county had adequate technological expertise to oversee the system installation. It was a new, multimillion dollar digital radio system. Deschutes 911 had never installed something like that before. And yet, in January 2017 Deschutes 911 told ADCOMM Engineering, the consulting firm hired to give the county technical expertise, that its services would not be needed to help with installation. Reinke failed to tell commissioners he turned off the technical expertise.
When the system went live last summer, Deschutes County 911 started getting complaint after complaint. Law enforcement officers were worried the poor system quality was putting lives at risk. Reinke has told us he failed to take concerns with the new system seriously enough and react soon enough. He said: I “did not ring the bell hard enough.” He did not take significant action until after Bend police officers alleged to the state in December that the system was creating a dangerous workplace.
We could go on. It should be said that Reinke apparently did other things at 911 well. After repetitive turnover in the director position, he brought stability. He helped pass the new permanent levy for 911 in 2016. Deschutes 911 launched a text-to-911 service under Reinke. He was also very open with us about the radio problems after Bend police filed that complaint.
But Reinke did not deal with the communication system that is the vital link for county law enforcement as well as possible. Far from it.