Glitch interferes with Cleburne County’s effort to secure improved communications equipment
by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com
Feb 09, 2014 | 3312 views |  0 comments | 79 79 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cleburne County officials expect newly purchased digital communication equipment will fix longstanding radio problems for local police and sheriff’s deputies, but a nearby sheriff’s office could drag out the county’s application for a license.

Officials have tried several different solutions to resolve the communication problems the county has been having for more than a year. Heflin police Chief A.J. Benefield, Heflin Chief Investigator Michael Gore, Chief Deputy Dennis Green and Ranburne police Chief Steve Tucker all arranged for their agencies to test new digital equipment, working out agreements as to how they would share the cost of operating and maintaining the new equipment, said Cleburne County Administrator Steve Swafford.

Heflin police tested the equipment for two or three weeks during both the day and night shifts, Benefield said.

“We actually looked and tried to find trouble spots,” Benefield said. “The digital system worked flawlessly.”

The county sent in its order for the digital equipment Monday, Swafford said.

The county received a $40,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to purchase the equipment. The grant, which was originally awarded to another recipient but declined for some reason, must be closed by the end of February, he said. That meant going through a quick bid process including a pre-bid conference on Thursday when the county roads were still slick with ice in places, he said.

But Swafford said the urgent nature of the bid process saved some money. The county had estimated it would cost $60,000 to $70,000 to outfit the Sheriff’s Office with new equipment. But the winning bidder, Anniston-based McCord Communications, bid just less than $40,000. That includes assisting Heflin and Ranburne police in purchasing equipment, Swafford said.

Heflin City Clerk Shane Smith said the city was able to buy its share of the equipment for much less than anticipated. Smith said city officials used money from the sale of surplus property to buy $10,844 worth of equipment, including nine mobile units for the police cars, 12 walkie-talkies for the officers and one base unit for the department, Smith said.

Ranburne Town Clerk Pam Richardson said Ranburne police haven’t had to purchase any of the equipment at this time.

Still, when the agencies receive the radios and equipment, they will have to start out using the equipment in its existing analog frequency, Swafford said.

The county applied to the Federal Communications Commission to transfer its license on the existing frequency from analog to digital. One requirement for the application is to seek letters of concurrence from other frequency holders who have licenses with frequencies that might be affected, Swafford said.

That precaution is required because the digital signal has a longer reach, Swafford said. He compared it to a basketball player with bigger elbows.

“Picture going from Charles Barkley to Shaquille O’Neal,” Swafford said.

Swafford doesn’t think there would be any interference, but the other license holders can refuse to agree to the change. If they refuse, the county will have to apply for a license for a new frequency, and that would take considerably more time, Swafford said.

Two license holders were contacted. One license holder sent a letter of concurrence; the other, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia, declined, Swafford said.

In a letter to McCord Communications, Jason Jenkins, communication system specialist for Cherokee County, cited the recent interference issues on Cleburne County’s frequency and the greater transmission distance as concerns.

Attempts to reach Jenkins for comment on Friday were unsuccessful.

Swafford said he would like to work out a deal with the Georgia sheriff to do a 30-day trial. If there are interference problems, they could be worked out then. Benefield said he and some other officers and deputies plan to meet face-to-face with representatives of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office to work out a deal with them.

“I think we’d get a lot further with that than with a letter,” Benefield said.

No meeting had been scheduled as of Friday, they said.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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