Public safety officials request radio network

Monday, February 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A statewide radio network that will permit law enforcement officers to stay in constant touch with each other probably costs more than the state can afford, but Oklahoma can't afford to be without it, Public Safety Commissioner Bob Ricks said Monday.

Ricks told the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety and Transportation that he wants the $48 million radio system following the deaths of two law enforcement officers during a police chase in which the officers could not communicate with each other.

"We have, unfortunately, 1950s technology," Ricks said as he made his budget request. "We have many parts of the state that have absolutely no coverage."

Ricks said the statewide, 800 megahertz system is his agency's top budget priority for the 2001 Legislature. He also said it is doubtful that lawmakers can find a way to finance it in a single year.

"I understand money is always tight," Ricks said. "The cost is so huge that we do not anticipate that you are going to be able to fund it."

The need for a new radio system because an issue following a high-speed chase in August that ended with the death of Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Matt Evans and Oklahoma City police officer Jeff Rominger.

Rominger was chasing a fleeing car heading east in a westbound lane of Interstate 40. Evans was heading west on I-40 when his car collided with Rominger's and the fleeing car. Rominger and two people in the car he was chasing were also killed.

Highway Patrol officials have said a universal radio system that can be used by any state or local agency would have allowed Evans to hear the chase on radio and avoid the collision.

Authorities said public safety officials started installing an 800-megahertz communications system in 1984.

But the Legislature appropriated fewer dollars because of a drop in revenue due to the oil crisis of the 1980s, and the project was dropped. Only two of six phases have been completed.

Ricks said the remaining four phases of the network would take up to four years to install. He said the first area of the state that would be tackled would be southeast Oklahoma, an area dotted with hills and mountains that is difficult for radio transmissions to penetrate.

"We will have to add more radio transmitters. You're going to have to have multiple towers," Ricks said.