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Oakland Police Still Dealing With Radio Issues Despite Earlier Fix

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Oakland police cruisers (CBS)

Oakland police cruisers (CBS)

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OAKLAND (CBS 5) — Problems with the Oakland police radio system over the past year were not caused by interference from AT&T cell phone towers, according to the company. Independent testing at 16 cell towers identified as sources of interference from AT&T by Oakland found all but one operating within FCC guidelines the company said, in a statement released Wednesday.

The one cell tower where the independent evaluator discovered a local site issue, located in Hayward, was too far away to have caused any communications blackouts, AT&T said.

In Oakland, a city with the 4th highest crime rate in the country, the essential pieces of survival gear ares still not dependable.

It’s been happening ever since Oakland rolled out its new digital public safety radio system a year ago. It was a mystery, until the city announced a breakthrough last month.

“The bulk of the problems are interference to the system,” said David Cruise, the city’s public safety systems advisor. Cruise said the interference is coming from AT&T’s towers.

“The officers when they get within a quarter mile to a half mile of one of these sites they start experiencing problems,” he said.

Cruise said after AT&T shut down some 2G service at a cell tower in the Fruitvale District and 15 other sites, things became much better. He demonstrated to CBS 5 by turning on his own radio.

“We are inside of a building in Oakland, downtown Oakland, and it works just fine,” he said.

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AT&T turned down CBS 5’s request for an interview, but a spokesperson told us Cruise’s statements are inaccurate. And according to Oakland Police Officers Association President Barry Donelan, “After we were told that this AT&T malfunction had been rectified, officers in the field serving the citizens were again reporting outages.”

So what’s going on? “It’s really easy to blame somebody else,” said engineering consultant Bill Ruck with CSI Telecommunications in San Francisco.

Ruck said other cities with similar P25 systems are not having similar interference problems and blaming AT&T may be a way to distract attention from other issues.

“Clearly the problem has multiple dimensions,” he said. “A little bit of too much old stuff, a little bit of not well thought out new stuff, a little bit of poor training.”

Ruck said some answers may be in a consultant’s report commissioned by the City of Oakland for internal use only. “Everybody in the industry would love to see that full report,” he said.

So far, the report has not been released. Oakland turned down CBS 5’s request for a copy, saying it’s confidential.

But we did obtain an executive summary. It points out that the so-called “new” P25 system is actually not new. It’s mostly new software cobbled together with old infrastructure.

Among the problems mentioned: aging components, poor coverage inside buildings, and “horrendously and unnecessarily complex” radio channel programming. The report concludes that even upgrading Oakland’s radio system would “do little to improve the level of coverage.”

The report recommends testing an alternative. It’s a new “regional” public safety network that most East Bay cities have signed up with.

Executive Director Bill McCammon said the regional system has six transmission towers. The newest tower under construction will be ready to provide coverage for Oakland within a month.

“Once that is done we are going to do coverage testing so that they can feel comfortable that they will get improved coverage over their existing system,” he said.

But so far the city is saying no. “The EBRCS system isn’t even built. It’s not ready for anybody to use in Oakland,” Cruise said.

But several experts CBS 5 has talked to, including Ruck, said it’s the way to go. “Traditionally Oakland has wanted to march to their own drummer and has not been willing to get involved. It may require admission that we made a bad decision, which they don’t like to do politically,” he said.

Officials with the city of Oakland confirmed Tuesday that interference from AT&T still appears to be one of the main issues. But other issues are also being looked at, and testing is still ongoing.

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

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