Chief Deputy Stan Copeland said he plans to ask for new digital radios for those deputies “on the street the most” while the rest of the department would continue to use the current analog system it has used for decades.
“Hopefully, we will get more range,” he said.
An upgrade on some radios – which could cost about $200,000 — also will provide the department a clearer signal than it now gets with a VHF system that can be affected by atmospheric conditions, Copeland said.
“Digital will get a little more clarity,” he said. “[With VHF] the signal is either there or not.”
New Federal Communications Commission requirements for “narrowbanding” that took effect Jan. 1 reduced the broadcast range between the department’s home base and its deputies on patrol to about 55 percent of the county.
“It’s cut our range, especially on portables [radios],” he said.
The department’s radio system formerly reached about 80 percent of the county, but is now down to about 55 percent. It now has “dead spots” in such outlying areas as Austell in northeast Douglas and Fairplay and Mirror Lake in western Douglas, he said.
Copeland said dispatchers and fellow deputies are keeping closer contact with deputies on patrol to provide the same level of safety as before Jan. 1.
County commissioners had considered a $10 million bond referendum for a new digital radio system after Copeland told them about the radio limitations earlier this summer.
However, commissioners chose not to put the issue on the ballot after voting to raise property taxes 26 percent last month to fund the county government’s 2013 budget.
County government spokesman Wes Tallon said “the citizens were very definitive in not wanting” commissioners to call for bond votes.
“[Commissioners] received the message from the citizens very clearly,” he said.
Copeland said commissioners had known of the need for the new radio system for years but “had other priorities,” including a referendum for a special purpose local option sales tax for the new jail and department administrative building near I-20.
The sheriff’s office has operated with the analog radio system for decades despite neighboring law enforcement agencies – including Douglasville – having digital 800 megahertz systems that would not allow communication between the two agencies, Copeland said.
Until the narrowbanding mandate from the FCC – implemented to create more space and allow more users within the VHF radio spectrum – deputies could not talk to other agencies “but we could talk a long way,” he said.
“The VHF was strong. Until the feds required narrowbanding, it was fine,” Copeland said.