Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington on Wednesday agreed to ask Go Forward Pine Bluff for help in acquiring new radios for both the police and fire departments.
At a meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant and Fire and Emergency Services Assistant Chief Ernst Jones made their cases for the new radios, agreeing that the equipment they have now is creating a safety issue.
Jones said the current radios, both those in department vehicles and the hand-held models used by firefighters, are “over 20 years old and we can’t get parts.”
Sergeant came prepared for the meeting with a box of radio parts, explaining that when one of the department’s radios fails, they use the parts from it on other radios to try and keep them working.
“It costs $1,000 to replace a motherboard and $150 to replace a knob that is broken,” Sergeant said. “All of our officers currently have a radio but some of them are faulty and can’t go from channel to channel.
“Radios are our lifeline, and if we can’t communicate, we’ve got a problem. Last year, we asked for cars. This year, we’re asking for an essential piece of equipment.”
Sergeant said the department needs 146 hand-held radios and 113 base units to equip every officer and vehicle with a functioning radio.
“We’ve been asked to find the money in our budget, but we don’t have any additional resources,” Sergeant said. “My predecessors were able to find money by cutting personnel, but I can’t do that. To maintain the level of safety we need, I can’t cut another officer. Our specialized divisions are lacking personnel, but I’m not able to take people from the Patrol Division to fill those specialized division spots because I’m not going to cut down uniform patrol.”
Like the Police Department, Jones said the Fire and Emergency Services Department has no resources to purchase the needed 40 hand-held radios, as well as replace the base units in vehicles. He passed out a sheet estimating that the hand-held radios would cost about 200,000 but had no figures for the cost of replacing the base units.
Sergeant said the department had received a quote from Motorola (the company that makes the radios currently used by both the police and fire departments) of $593,029 for 146 hand-held units and 113 base units, with an annual payment of $129,000. The first of those payments would be due one year from the date the sales contract was signed.
By reducing the number of base units to 40 but retaining the 146 hand-held radios, Sergeant said the cost would be $399,915, or $86,800 annually.
“We need the whole package,” Sergeant said. “If we reduce the package, then when are we looking at purchasing the others (base units)?”
Pine Bluff Animal Control, which was not included in the prices, is currently using radios that formerly belonged to the Police Department. They would need six hand-held radios and six base units.
The mayor told both Jones and Sergeant to write up what they need and she will present it to the Go Forward review committee next week.
Aldermen Bill Brumett and Lloyd Holcomb Jr. and committee chair Thelma Walker voted unanimously to ask the mayor to approach Go Forward for help.
As a part of their recommendations in the Infrastructure/Government pillar Go Forward presented, steps to help improve the professionalism of first responders included working with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Southeast Arkansas College and others to support training, increase tax revenues to provide adequate wages, develop incentive programs to support retention and others.
In addition to the safety issue, Sergeant said there is also an image issue surrounding the need for the new equipment, and that the use of the old and failing equipment sends the wrong message to the officers on the street.
“It says we don’t care and that’s not the message we want to send,” Sergeant said.