Las Vegas Police: “Two tin cans and string might work better”

I consider it common knowledge that I don’t don’t care much about digital forms of communication. Our police doesn’t either (although they’re urged to keep their mouths shut about the problems they encounter).

The Las Vegas Police is the latest victim of the ever expanding digital communication craze. The name of the system: DesertSky, a localized version of the OpenSky system. Unveiled last summer, the DesertSky digital system expanded channel capacities, enabled advanced data communications for in-car computers, and added other features that were unavailable on the agency’s aging analog system.

Bugs, dead zones
Since then, the Police Department has worked with the radio provider, Harris Corp., to fix bugs, dead zones and other issues as they came up. But while most problems have been fixed, the cops who rely on the radios aren’t satisfied, and some even worry the radios’ lack of performance could get one of them hurt or killed.

Signs of trouble elsewhere in abundance
Many other public safety agencies committed to OpenSky, and many have been left disappointed as their systems have been dogged by performance and reliability problems.  In early 2009, the state of New York cited technology problems when it terminated a $2 billion contract with M/A-COM to build a statewide communications system. Lancaster County, Pa., dumped its OpenSky contract in 2008 after spending about 11 years and $14 million on the project.

And in Milwaukee, police have experienced system outages and glitches in the past year with their OpenSky system, prompting criticism by the officers’ union and an investigation by a city alderman.

When everything else fails

So, whats wrong here? We can only guess, but a few things are considered to be facts.

  • Digital is on/off. If you’re in range, it works fine. When you’re not, the radio plays dead. Analog radios on the other hand would still function. A bit of noise might be introduced, sure, but you’re still able to communicate.
  • The greater simplicity of fixed circuit-based logic means analog systems can generally be perfected to a very high standard of reliability before leaving the design lab. Short of physical hardware deterioration, nothing typically alters the state at a later time. In the vastly more sophisticated world of software and firmware, not all bugs can be identified in the time manufacturers are willing to spend on pre-release testing.

My advise to LV police officers: do not gamble (pun intended). Do the same some first responders do here: don’t throw away your analog radios. Keep them charged and at hand. One day you’ll be glad you did.

One comment on “Las Vegas Police: “Two tin cans and string might work better”

Comments are closed.