City To Negotiate With Police Radio Consortium; Police Union Says ‘Disaster’ Waiting To Happen

City commissioners on Monday gave Mayor Jeri Muoio the OK to negotiate a new deal with the same police radio consortium that Muoio once vowed to leave.

If West Palm Beach can reach a new deal with the consortium, the consortium will then negotiate for a police radio system that will cost West Palm an estimated $5.6 million on top of the $5 million it has already spent for a radio system that has never been activated.

Under the plan, West Palm Beach would remain with the consortium, which includes Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, Juno Beach, Palm Beach and Atlantis, but would run its own, more advanced, “P25? system while the other cities run OpenSky. Both system are made by Harris Corp.

West Palm Beach and the other cities would share some equipment, including the core processor that will run both OpenSky and the P25 system. P25 systems are designed to be open platform systems that can communicate better with other systems, including the county’s Motorola system.

Lou Penque, the head of the West Palm Beach police union, said Monday that the plan could be a “disaster.”

“They’re saying we’re going to be the administrator of P25 and the consortium is going to be the administrator of OpenSky,” Penque said. “But there has to be a master administrator. Someone has to be in charge of it all. Who will that be? All I see in this is a disaster, that’s the only thing I see in the future.”

Muoio said Monday that “the devil is in the details here, but we’ll see what kind of details we can hammer out.”

The Palm Beach Post reported in May 2011 that West Palm Beach officials had buried reports documenting problems with OpenSky in 2009 and 2010. Following The Post’s stories, the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General launched an audit of the consortium.

The results, released in December, raised questions about the purchase, operation and oversight of the OpenSky system by the consortium, but also found that the consortium had worked effectively with Harris to overcome early problems and get OpenSky operational in all the cities but West Palm Beach, which has taller, denser buildings that can interfere with radio reception.

West Palm Beach currently uses a 1980s analog Motorola system. Last week, Motorola gave the city an unsolicited proposal that it says would provide a system $419,000 cheaper than the Harris proposal. Motorola also the city would save an additional $30,000 per year in maintenance costs.

Commissioner Shanon Materio said Monday that she believes that a Motorola system would either be the same price or cheaper than the Harris system. But Materio said putting the system out to bid would slow down the process. Materio said she’s spoken to many officers and she doesn’t believe they’re all against staying with the consortium.

“Everyone I’ve talked to says ‘we want what’s going to get us where we need to be as quickly as we can,’” Materio said. “If it’s on one officers back because we waited an extra 30 days, 30 months, waited for a (bid), it’s one day too long.”

Penque, however, insists that the officers are being treated as “guinea pigs” because no other city has shared a core processor and run both OpenSky and the P25 system for radio.

Ernie Carr, a Palm Beach Gardens police colonel and executive director of the consortium, praised the city Monday and called it “a positive move because the city of West Palm Beach has a lot of money invested.” Carr said he doubted Motorola could deliver a cheaper system.

Carr said a new agreement between the city and consortium will allow West Palm to control the P25 part of the system.

“This is going to be tested like no other system has ever been tested before because of the players and the notoriety brought to the table for this,” Carr said. “It’s going to work perfect. Harris guarantees it.”

From The Palm Beach Post

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