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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 1998202/307-0703


Public Safety Professionals Detail Encounters with Radio Interoperability Problems

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Too often, emergency services, police, and fire personnel have had to use hand signals and runners rather than radios to communicate. In other instances, police from neighboring jurisdictions have driven alongside one another to coordinate while pursuing a perpetrator. While radios would be the logical and optimal mode of communications in each instance, radios used by one department sometimes are incompatible with another department's equipment.

To emphasize the need for changes in the way jurisdictions plan and coordinate the design of their communications systems, the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has produced a 13-minute video, "Why Can't We Talk." The video includes testimonials from emergency services personnel, police officials, firefighters and policymakers who have encountered interoperability-related problems and proposed solutions. Interoperability, a word commonly used in the law enforcement and emergency response disciplines, refers to police or emergency response teams' ability to communicate through radio equipment while jointly responding to an emergency call.

"Protecting the residents of the United States is an enormous challenge," said Attorney General Janet Reno. "The nation's law enforcement, fire and emergency services personnel depend on and deserve effective radio communications to face this challenge."

The Attorney General has designated Associate Attorney General Raymond Fisher to spearhead the Justice Department's efforts related to radio spectrum and interoperability. Mr. Fisher served as President of the Los Angeles Police Commission prior to being appointed Associate Attorney General.

"I've seen first-hand the type of havoc disruption to radio communications can cause while police or emergency services personnel are responding to a call for help during an emergency," said Associate Attorney General Fisher. "I hope that this video acts as a catalyst for discussions about communications problems and potential solutions at all levels of government."

To improve interoperability, Congress included language in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that would free up additional space on the radio spectrum for law enforcement use. The language requires that by 2006, 24 Mhz of the spectrum currently occupied by broadcast television channels 60 through 69 be transferred for public safety use.

Earlier this year, NIJ released a study, "State and Local Law Enforcement Wireless Communications and Interoperability: A Quantitative Analysis," which reported the results of a survey of more than 1,500 law enforcement agencies. More than half of the agencies surveyed reported that they do not have sufficient funds to adopt nor do they have sufficient familiarity with wireless technology initiatives that could enhance their agency's operations.

The Justice Department is currently working with the Treasury Department through the Public Safety Wireless Network Program to deal with communications problems related to interoperability. In addition to the study that led to NIJ's report released earlier this year, a follow-up study is underway to collect similar information from fire, emergency medical and emergency management agencies.

The results of that study are expected in the near future. For additional information about NIJ or its programs, visit its Internet web site at: For information on OJP and its programs, visit its web site at: For a copy of "Why Can't We Talk," call the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center at 1-800/248-2742.

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NIJ 98-197

For additional information, contact Doug Johnson at 202/616-3559