PIEDMONT -- The city may be out $150,000 for two new digital dispatch consoles they might be unable to use due to Oakland's highly publicized problems with its new public safety radio system.
Earlier this year, the Piedmont City Council appropriated the money to purchase the consoles to convert from analog to digital and to align with Oakland's new $18 million system.
Piedmont's interim police Chief Scott Wyatt explained.
"We work on a day-to-day basis with Oakland, because that city surrounds us," Wyatt said. "The ability to communicate on their system is important to us. We have Piedmont's best interests in mind."
Piedmont leases its mobile radios and portable "on the hip" communication devices from Oakland for its fleet of six marked police cars, one police motorcycle and four unmarked police cars. Officers also have company cell phones on the job as a backup for any communication problems.
But Piedmont police had to use grant money to purchase the two new consoles, which are ready for delivery and cannot be returned, Wyatt believes.
That's all on hold while Piedmont police wait to see what Oakland will do about its system, which has been dubbed unreliable.
Wyatt said since Oakland switched to its new digital system about a year ago, reception has been better for Piedmont police, who are also plagued with "dead zones" and "shadow zones," especially where they are needed most in the area of Grand Avenue and Beach
"What helped us the most was a third site added up above the Caldecott Tunnel which gives us coverage in that weak area," Wyatt said.
Piedmont has its quirks when it comes to public safety radio accessibility. The city is full of canyons and hills which can impede radio transmissions. Wyatt finds occasional problems when he's using his police radio near City Hall, which contains some cell phone towers on its roof.
"And the firefighters have to pull outside to use their radios, which don't seem to work inside the fire department garage," he said.
That said, the interim chief still believes the new system is an improvement over Oakland's old one.
Complicating the issue is the advent of the East Bay Regional Communication System, an authority that includes 40 jurisdictions in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. It would be costly for Oakland to convert to this system, which would have four antennae installations in Oakland, the last of which is scheduled for completion the end of September, according to reports in the Oakland Tribune. Piedmont is at the mercy of Oakland's decision, whatever that may be.
Further, if the new digital consoles are installed by Piedmont, a "gateway" must be established with Oakland to record Piedmont's 911 calls. The current analog consoles in the city record all incoming emergency calls.
"Piedmont has been a part of Oakland's radio system for many years," City Administrator Geoff Grote said.
"The new communications consoles we were required to have as part of Oakland's conversion to a digital system is something that we had to purchase."