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New emergency radios worry some in western Clark County

Clark sheriff says system eventually will improve officer and citizen safety.

A $680,000 state-of-the-art emergency radio dispatch system is finally operational at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, but dead spots in the western edge of the county have some agencies concerned.

After nine months of research and implementation, the sheriff’s office switched to the new MARCS radio system Dec. 20. The system was required by new Federal Communications Commission guidelines.

The system allows the sheriff’s office to communicate with surrounding townships that are also on the MARCS system. It also provides more channels, so there’s less overlap during radio traffic and more availability to use encrypted channels during sensitive investigations, said Sheriff Gene Kelly.

However, multiple agencies on the county’s western side have reported spotty and non-existent service with the new MARCS radio system inside buildings on their portable radios.

“We believe this is only going to enhance officer safety, our ability to respond quickly, citizen safety and improve all communication,” Kelly said.

Its $683,856 price tag was funded in part by the Clark County Commission, as well as a Justice Assistance Grant and Furtherance Of Justice funds.

The village of Enon has decided to pay nearly $13,200 for additional equipment it hopes will solve the coverage issue. Council approved the measure at its meeting Jan. 22.

Enon will put mobile repeaters in its police cruisers to increase the range and power of linked portable radios and a base station in the police headquarters to be able to talk to officers on the street, according to Police Chief Lew Wilcox.

At least one repeater will be covered through grant money, Mayor Tim Howard noted.

“When we put in the MARCS radios, we said ‘We’ll try to get by with not putting repeaters in the cruisers, and it didn’t work,’” Councilman Jerry Crane said. “The way this country has gone, if we don’t have a good radio system (and) we can’t talk to anyone, that’s a dangerous situation.”

Meanwhile, municipalities like New Carlisle are waiting to see how service changes as new towers go online. That city has four contracted sheriff’s cruisers and doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on additional repeaters, City Manager Kim Jones said. Each repeater costs about $2,500.

German Twp. Chief Michael Stitzel said his department was having issues in the western part of its jurisdiction but said overall it’s a good system and a good concept, despite his fears of not being able to communicate inside some buildings.

“Hopefully the system does what it’s supposed to do,” Stitzel said. “If anything, it’s too early to condemn it. It’s still new.”

The Mad River Twp. deputy and the Tremont City and Donnelsville police departments have all experienced similar coverage issues with the new system.

Kelly said he is aware some agencies were having trouble indoors. However, he said his office have been meeting with staff from each of the affected areas and working to rectify any problems. It’s likely when the signal is boosted at towers in Clark, Champaign and Montgomery counties within the next 90 days, those issues will be solved, he said.

Clark County 911 Coordinator Michael Combs added that most issues with portable radios inside buildings will be resolved as proposed towers at Wright State University and in Clifton, which are closer and better-placed in relation to the affected areas, come online within the next three months, Combs said.

Operational towers in Troy, Dayton and near Wilberforce currently cover much of the county’s west side, though their signals are weaker due to their distance and the terrain in those areas.

MARCS engineers boosted power of the existing Troy and Wilberforce towers this month, which should help with coverage in some of the western county, Combs said.

“The service is only going to get better,” Kelly said.

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