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Detroit Police, Emergency Radio System Breaks Down

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A message posted at Broadcastify.com Friday morning. (credit: Kathryn Larson/WWJ)

A message posted at Broadcastify.com Friday morning. (credit: Kathryn Larson/WWJ)

DETROIT (WWJ) – In what was described as a crisis in the city, Detroit police, fire and EMS struggled, Friday morning, without the use of internal radio communications.

Reporting from the 10th Precinct at Livernois and Elmhurst — just after the morning shift change — WWJ City Beat Reporter Vickie Thomas said some police officers headed out on patrol weren’t too happy about having to use their personal cell phones to do the city’s business.

As one officer told Thomas, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

The dispatch system went down at around 5:30 a.m. and the city was in radio silence for almost four hours.

Detroit Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Eren Stephens said 911 calls were not affected and communication capabilities were at about 85 percent by 9 a.m.

Speaking to reporters later in the day, new Detroit Police Chief James Craig said the communications meltdown delayed police response to more than a dozen priority one calls — and more than 100 non-priority calls.

“This is a service and a lack of accountability issues. I’m just gonna be clear; I’m not gonna put icing on something that doesn’t need it,” Craig said. “This should not have happened.”

Craig said there are a lot of unanswered questions.

“I did ask the question as to why that could have happened. When was the last time we tested our system? It had not been tested,” Craig said. “I am very concerned about it. I am going to make an exhaustive review of why that could have happened.”

Craig said, for now, the department is only handling emergency calls.  He asked residents with non-emergencies to go to a police station and file a complaint.

Friday afternoon, the system was patched into Michigan State Police towers.

Gary Brown, Chief Compliancy Officer for the city, said the fix is a temporary one — in place while Motorola technical engineers work on the communications tower.

“The fact that it’s almost a holiday is helping us,” Brown said. “And the fact that we now have Homeland Security as well as the state police helping to free up 10 channels should resolve the issue until we can get to the bottom of why that tower went down.”

Brown, a former Detroit police officer himself, said this isn’t the first time the tower has failed — and he says he knows firsthand what a handicap it can be to try to fight crime without radio contact.

A source talking to Thomas said there have been problems with the Motorola system since before the 9-11 terror attacks; and that someone dropped the ball because there is no backup system.

Worried city use might overload the state system, Craig said they’re working with Verizon on a fallback plan.

Citizens are upset.

“This city is just in turmoil,” said lifelong Detroiter, Carnel Williams. “I was just here to do community service and I can’t even get inside the police station.”

Hayward Hall, age 70, says Detroit public safety could use an infusion of federal dollars. “Detroit is a border … an international border city. If any resources should come, we should obtain it.”

As of Friday afternoon, there was no timetable for when the city’s communication system would be back up and running.

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