Atlanta to vote on $40 mil police radio improvement

By Eric Stirgus
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA The Atlanta City Council is scheduled to vote today on a $40 million digital radio system city officials say will improve communications within Atlanta's emergency service agencies and with those in surrounding areas.

City officials believe the new system will help Atlanta police avoid some of the problems encountered in the early moments after the March 11, 2005 Fulton County courthouse shootings, when more than a half-dozen law enforcement agencies couldn't talk to each other on their police radios as they pursued suspect Brian Nichols.

"They couldn't communicate with us. We couldn't communicate with them," Councilwoman Cleta Winslow, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee, said at a Wednesday meeting of the Finance Committee where the plan was unveiled.

The digital communications system, called Astro Project 25, is designed by Motorola. Cobb County police use the system, and it will soon be used by police in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties.

Luz Borrero, Atlanta's deputy chief operating officer, said the system also will help police better communicate with the Fulton County Sheriff's Office, which has an older communications system.

Atlanta officials want to pay for the new system through a 10-year lease-purchase program.

Some council members questioned the wisdom of spending $40 million on the system.

Councilman Kwanza Hall argued at Wednesday's committee meeting that the city would be better off using the money to hire more police officers. Atlanta is struggling to hire more officers as the city's year-to-date crime rate is up 10 percent over the same period in 2006.

"Why aren't we focused on getting more officers trained?" Hall asked.

Borrero said the upgrade is necessary. She warned the current system may not work properly when the city's Police Department moves out of its headquarters at City Hall East in 2009.

"We don't have an alternative to provide the tools for our Fire Department and police to communicate," Borrero told Hall. 

Copyright 2007 Atlanta Journal-COnstitution

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