Greene County Sheriff’s Office replacing 20-year-old radios as part of a $5 million emergency communications upgrade
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The Greene County Commission recently approved a $5.2 million proposal to upgrade the Springfield-Greene County Emergency Communications Trunked Radio System.
The Trunked Radio System (TRS) is used by several area law enforcement agencies, fire departments, EMS, and other entities (City Utilities, Greene Co. Highway Department, Springfield Public Schools) for communicating notifications, alerts, warnings, incident responses, requests for assistance and public information exchange.
Greene County is at a critical juncture in upgrading its aging radio fleet. The Greene County Sheriff’s Office is looking forward to replacing some 500 radios that have been in service for over 20 years. The new radios will offer improved features that can help improve safety and response.
One such feature is a GPS function that allows a dispatcher to track an officer’s location even if they’re in a remote area with no voice communication between them.
And with 600 miles to cover within the county, the new radios also allow for seamless WiFi roaming that will increase coverage and reliability in rural areas.
The $5,217,126 was approved to come out of the Greene County American Rescue Plan Funding, with $291,642 coming out of the Greene County Highway Department’s budget.
“The Commission is pleased to be able to upgrade our radio equipment for first responders as the outdated analog equipment was no longer compatible and was presenting a number of difficulties in transmission,” said Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon. “Our law enforcement officers will have better tools due to this upgrade to digital equipment and be better enabled to keep the public safe.”
The benefits of the new radios were never more evident than in December of 2020. A squad of Greene County deputies tested the new equipment when they responded to a call that took them well into Polk County towards Bolivar in pursuit of a man who had rammed his car into one of their own fellow deputies, Lt. Steve Westbrook.
Lt. Westbrook suffered serious injuries but survived. Seth Hay, the man who hit him, received a 30-year sentence this past week.
“Those radios did make a difference in that chase,” explained Paige Rippee, the Public Information Officer for the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. “It was essential that we had them because we were taking most of our deputies away from Greene County to apprehend a suspect with multiple felony warrants. And as soon as they left the Greene County area, they would not have been able to communicate with each other. Those radios made it to where they could communicate farther with each other as they got into Polk County.”
With the lack of coverage and reliability using the old radios, Greene County deputies would sometimes only be getting information about the call they were responding to on a computer in their car or over a cell phone. When you consider they’re often responding to a fluid, fast-changing emergency, that is not an optimal situation.
“That type of call could be getting worse, or it could be digressing as they respond,” Rippee said. “But the deputy may not be getting more information. Now that we have the new radio system, these deputies are able to be mentally and physically prepared for what they’re about to drive up on.”
Another major problem was that Greene County used old radios, and the Springfield Police Department has already upgraded its system. Officers were not able to monitor each other’s frequencies.
“They couldn’t hear our radio traffic, and we couldn’t hear their radio traffic,” Rippee said. “It was having to be relayed by the dispatchers. But since we’ve done the new radio update, we’re back to where we can hear their radio traffic again.”
While replacing 20-year-old radios may not seem like a big deal, imagine how much mobile phones have changed during that time. And in this case, those radios can undoubtedly mean the difference in life and death because communication is a key to law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency medical personnel.
“Those radios are how officers communicate with each other,” Rippee pointed out. “It may be some type of medical emergency, and we have to relay to dispatch that we need the fire department or an ambulance. It is our number one tool, our lifeline to not only fellow deputies and officers but to the community as well.”
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