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Washington State Patrol flips switch today on first part of $40 million radio upgrade

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Oct. 9, 2012 at 9:57 am |
October 9, 2012 10:10 am

State troopers working in the Yakima area will be the guinea pigs for the upgrade, ushering in the digital era for the patrol.

The $40 million project will replace equipment at dispatch centers and mountaintop relay sites and buy more than 2,000 new radios that will go in the car and on the hip of every trooper. It’s scheduled to be in place by Jan. 1 to comply with a federal mandate calling for reduced use of bandwidth by law enforcement to free up space on the radio spectrum for more users.

The project goes beyond the Federal Communications Commission “narrowbanding” mandate, though. It also avoids loss of coverage by upgrading to a digital, “P-25″ system; moves to a “trunked” system allowing troopers to use more than one frequency in a given area; and links up to a U.S. Justice Department network that lowered the project’s overall price tag but required a no-bid, $32 million contract with Motorola Solutions, while also drawing scrutiny over the DOJ system’s oversight of money.

One segment of the system will be upgraded to digital without the trunking, so the patrol can keep talking to state wildlife and parks officers.

In a news release today, patrol Electronic Services Division commander Bob Schwent said the early use of the system in Yakima would allow the patrol to work out any bugs:

We’ve tested extensively, and we certainly believe we’re ready. Now it’s time to flip the switch and see what happens with real-life use. Technicians will be monitoring closely to see that Trooper or public safety is not compromised.

Finally, the patrol has a note for those who listen in to scanner traffic:

Radio hobbyists or newsrooms used to monitoring the State Patrol on its traditional VHF radio frequencies will find their scanners eerily quiet. New, digital scanners using the P25 protocol will be needed to hear WSP transmissions, which will not be encrypted. WSP cannot recommend a particular brand or model of scanner, but there are many competing manufacturers on the market.

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