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Spotsy seeks fix for radio system
COUNTY IS ACCEPTING BIDS TO FIX OR REPLACE ITS COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM FOR POLICE, FIRE
BY JEFF BRANSCOME
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
A Spotsylvania County detective had problems radioing for help after he shot a robbery suspect in the leg June 14 at a discount store near Spotsylvania Towne Centre.
The officer would start to say something to his colleagues, but the transmission would cut out, said Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Harvey.
The detective’s portable radio eventually worked, but a bystander had already called 911, Harvey said. The detective was still struggling to handcuff the suspect—who had been armed with scissors—when the first deputy arrived a few minutes after the robbery attempt.
The incident illustrates Spotsylvania’s problems over the years with its 800-MHz public safety communications system.
“I want all my deputies to go home at night to their wives and their kids, and I don’t want a malfunctioning radio system to cause anybody in this county to get hurt,” Sheriff Roger Harris said in an interview Thursday.
The county Board of Supervisors is preparing to spend millions to upgrade or replace the radio system, which has had problems since it was installed in 1999.
After meeting in closed session Tuesday night, the supervisors voted 5–2 to allow companies to bid on the project as soon as possible. Supervisors’ Chairwoman Ann Heidig said she hopes to award a contract within four months.
Supervisors Gary Skinner and Paul Trampe cast the dissenting votes.
Skinner said he thinks the county should have signed a contract with Harris Corporation—Spotsylvania’s current radio provider—to improve the system without taking bids from other companies. That would’ve been the quickest and least-expensive option, he said, noting that he expects the competitive bidding process will take at least six months.
“Why do you want to put your deputies and your fire department at risk any more than they have to be?” he asked.
Harris Corporation of Melbourne, Fla.—no relation to Sheriff Harris—could immediately start updating the radios if the county reached an agreement with them, Skinner said.
Sheriff Harris said he sees Skinner’s point and that “it may not be a bad idea.”
Heidig, however, said allowing companies to vie for the project is the only legal option, based on the county attorney’s advice.
“We did not want to do something that might open up the county to lawsuits and litigation, which would kick the can even farther down the road,” she said.
County Attorney Jacob Stroman declined to comment, saying his advice to the board is subject to attorney–client privilege.
Skinner said he knows of many localities that have updated radio systems without seeking competitive offers. None were sued, he said.
Trampe said he voted against soliciting bids for the project because he didn’t think it was the fastest process. “Time has become an issue,” he said.
He wouldn’t say what his preference was, but said bidding would probably add just a few weeks to the timeline.
The bigger issue is that past supervisors didn’t deal with the problem years ago like they should have, said Trampe, one of four board members who took office in January.
“I am getting sick and tired of dealing with these issues that the previous board let fester for years and years until it became a crisis,” he said.
Norman Brooks Sr., a volunteer deputy fire chief in Spotsylvania, said supervisors made the right decision to have companies submit proposals for the radio system.
“I think that will get the best product for the best price,” he said. He commended Supervisor Benjamin Pitts for supporting improvements to the system after some of the initial problems.
Brooks knows about the issues firsthand. In 2000, his radio malfunctioned when he called for help as burning debris started falling around him while he was responding to a house fire.
Harris Corporation and Motorola are the biggest suppliers of local government radio systems.
Stafford County signed a contract with Motorola in 2007 to replace its 22-year-old system. The new system cost $26 million.
Stafford solicited bids for the project.
Spotsylvania hired a consultant in October 2010 to look at an upgrade to its radio system proposed by Harris Corporation. The consultant determined that the proposal was more of a replacement than an upgrade and recommended that the county seek other offers.
Supervisors hired another consultant late last year to evaluate its radio system. Heidig said the consultant, AECOM, presented its findings during Tuesday’s closed session.
She declined to discuss the specifics, but said the consultant told them that a competitive process would ensure that the county gets the best price.
County officials plan to present a timeline for the bidding process at a meeting July 10.
Sheriff Harris said he’s concerned about the safety of residents and deputies.
The detective who shot the robbery suspect in June had minor injuries.
The shooting occurred during a scuffle in which the detective was trying to subdue the suspect and avoid being stabbed by scissors, Sheriff’s Office officials say. The suspect, Lexy Clay Dove Sr., 48, of Orange County, was treated at Mary Washington Hospital and released into police custody.
Harris said the county has had serious radio problems during at least 13 of the 20-plus weeks he’s been on the job.
“That’s not a good track record,” he said. “I just want to see it fixed.”
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402