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Oakland Police Radio Towers Lacking Security, Controls

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Graffiti appears on an Oakland Police radio transmission tower. (CBS)

Graffiti appears on an Oakland Police radio transmission tower. (CBS)

Allen-Martin_BIO-HEAD Allen Martin
Allen Martin anchors the KPIX 5 newscasts each weeknight at 5 and 6 pm...
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OAKLAND (CBS 5) – Oakland’s problem-plagued public safety radio system has another potential flaw that could put police and citizens at even more risk.

We can’t tell you where this is for security reasons, but a remote piece of land in the East Bay hills is critical to the safety of Oakland.

It’s home to a radio transmission tower, one of three that powers the city’s public safety radio system. It’s the system Oakland police depend on when radioing for backup at the scene of a crime.

It’s the very same tower that failed during President Obama’s visit in July. We were able to walk right up to it, there’s only a partial fence. Vandals have been there too, climbing up the tower to spray graffiti.

Only a temporary fence protects the site. It was put up by the East Bay Municipal Utilities District during recent renovations. A second transmission site we visited a week ago has very little protection as well.

We showed our video to Oakland Police Officers Association President Barry Donelan. “Just seeing those pictures today brought home again the lack of care there seems to be here in this city for public safety,” said Donelan.

So we took the video to David Cruise, the man the city of Oakland recently hired to deal with the public safety system problems. “It doesn’t overly concern me at this point,” said Cruise.

Even the graffiti doesn’t bother him: “You couldn’t easily shut the whole thing down just by climbing up that tower,” he said. “I don’t really see anything abnormal. This is fairly standard for public safety.”

But a nearby regional public safety radio system used by almost every other city and county in the East Bay has transmission towers that are protected by a tall fence, barbed wire and 24 hour monitoring.

In a report commissioned by the City of Oakland for internal use only but obtained by CBS 5, security consultants spell it the issues with the towers used by Oakland Police: “limited site alarms” and “no ability to automatically alert on-call technician when a problem arises.”

The report, released in May, also noted a “lack of backup power systems” in case anything does go wrong.

As a result, the city of Oakland installed portable generators just within the last two months. We found those backup generators are also unprotected. “It’s a temporary generator that has been installed at this time. It’s not a long term solution for that site,” said Cruise.

But Oakland’s police officers say they’ve waited long enough. “It’s absolutely a lifeline. It’s more a lifeline than ever before, because we are a skeleton crew of police officers serving the citizens of Oakland,” said OPOA spokesman Donelan. “All we want is a public safety radio system that works.”

The city of Oakland has been leasing the site that the transmission tower sits on from EBMUD since 2006. The agency said it uses several security measures, not all of them visible, to protect its water supply. It would not comment on security for the transmission tower.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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