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ESPD requests new radio system

March 9, 2018 – The Excelsior Springs Police Department has actively pursued purchasing and implementing a new radio system for the past year.

The current radio system is more than 15 years old, and operates on a Windows 2000 platform, which means it can no longer be updated and isn’t compatible with any other radio system in the region. Components for the consoles are no longer manufactured.

“When something breaks on one of these old Motorola consoles, Midwest Mobile goes to a closet, digs out pieces and parts, dusts them off, and hopes they work,” explained Excelsior Springs Police Chief Clint Reno.

The police department hopes to purchase and maintain a MARRS system. MARRS is the Metropolitan Area Regional Radio system—a consortium of 700 and 800 MHz trunked radio systems that allow authorized radio users to seamlessly roam and have reliable voice communications with all others on the MARRS system. Excelsior Springs is the only community left within the metropolitan area that hasn’t upgraded to the more modern system.

The MARRS system grew out of a post-Sept. 11 world, when communities realized having fast, reliable communication between agencies and regions is vital to public and officer safety. The MARRS system makes coverage metro-wide for officers.

“The benefit of going to the MARRS system is to increase our radio coverage area for our officers and the fire department, as soon as they come on,” explained Lieutenant Larry Tarrant at a recent Capital Improvement meeting.

It also allows inter-operability between agencies, he added.

“Right now, we don’t have that benefit, because we aren’t on the right radio system,” he explained.

“There’s been numerous times where we could have used this radio system that everyone else is on—the need arises more than you would think,” Tarrant said.

Tarrant also explained that it becomes an issue of speed. He pointed back to a prior bank robbery as an example.

“We had an officer who was following the suspect vehicle but couldn’t talk to anyone.” Instead, the officer had to relay the situation to dispatch, who had to call other local dispatches, and relay the information both ways. In a high-speed chase, every second counts.

“It’s a huge time delay,” Tarrant stated. It is also a safety issue. “When everyone else went on [the MARRS] radio system, we lost the ability to talk to anyone, including highway patrol and Clay County, anyone else we’d be talking to, and that presents a huge officer safety issue in a fast or quick-evolving situation.”

There are other problems in the existing system that would be resolved with the purchase and implementation of the MARRS system. Officers often lose contact with the outside when in large structures such as Walmart, for example.

Another major issue that the current system has that would be resolved is privacy concerns. Currently, anyone with a scanner can hear what is happening, which means names, social security numbers, drivers’ license numbers, addresses, and other private, identifying information can be heard. The new system wouldn’t allow that access, and the radio system has what Tarrant described as a “very robust encryption system.”

The project comes with a projected price tag of $1 million, as well as an estimated annual operating cost of somewhere just below $40,000.

“A good portion of [the annual operating cost] is the software, and you have to protect it with all the updates that need done, as well as security,” Reno explained. “So, there are certain fees paid annually.” The annual cost to upkeep the MARRS radio will come out of the operating budget for the police department.

The initial investment of $1 million may be more difficult to figure out. The public safety sales tax Excelsior Springs residents pay will cover about half the cost. The Excelsior Springs Police Department hopes to get the other half from the capital improvements tax.

“Currently we have ample cash reserves in the Public Safety Sales Tax Fund to fund one-half of the radio purchase without relying on future collections. This tax is overseen by the Public Safety Sales Tax Oversight Committee which is appointed by the city council,” explained Steve Marriott, director of administrative services for the City of Excelsior Springs.

“The other half of the MARRS radio system would come from the Capital Improvements Sales Tax Fund. Currently we have ample cash reserves in the Capital Improvements Sales Tax Fund to fund one-half of the radio purchase without relying on future collections. Allocations from this Tax are overseen by the Capital Improvements Authority which is appointed by the city council.”

On Tuesday, March 6, the Public Safety Sales Tax Oversight Committee agreed to fund half of the MARRS system upgrade. The Capital Improvements Authority will consider funding the other half on March 12. Final approval will be sought from the City Council at their next meeting on March 19.

By Samantha Kilgore •

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