Changes prompted after East Texas police radios fail - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Changes prompted after East Texas police radios fail

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Radio system in a Longview Police car. (Source: KLTV Staff) Radio system in a Longview Police car. (Source: KLTV Staff)
Smith County dispatch. (Source: KLTV Staff) Smith County dispatch. (Source: KLTV Staff)
LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) -

The Longview Police Department is looking into changes to their radio system after patrol cars lost radio contact completely during a recent multi-county high-speed chase.

The chase happened in June after Isaiah Christopher Roberts allegedly shot three women at a home in Longview, leaving two dead. The suspect then drove off in a truck and led Longview Police and several other law enforcement agencies on a pursuit from Gregg County to Smith County, finally ending in an arrest on the streets of Tyler.

Longview Police said at some point when their officers crossed into Smith County their radios stopped working, meaning they had no contact with dispatch or any other responding agencies and were essentially driving blind, chasing the murder suspect. They have been looking into these radio systems and how changes are vital to keeping not only the officers, but also citizens, safe during these types of pursuits.

Officers should hear a buzz of white noise, a loud voice, and information  in their patrol cars. In dash camera video from a Tyler Police car, you can hear Smith County dispatch talking to a Tyler police officer as that suspect speeds through a Tyler intersection. In the Longview patrol cars, there was silence.

“When our units drove outside of the radio frequency area, that’s when the radios cut off, so they had a hard time communicating,” Officer Deborah Styles, with Longview Police, said.

Tyler Police arrived just in time to block off roadways to other drivers. The dash cam video shows one Tyler police officer pulling back spike strips because he was too late. There was no way of directly communicating with Longview officers, and no way of knowing when the suspect would be there. Styles said the officers couldn’t even hear their own dispatch.

Styles explained their system is capable of communication with other departments outside of the county, but officers would have to change channels and they didn’t know how to do that. “You have to go through and change the zones. Then I have to turn the knob until I get to the right section that I’m trying to go for,” she said.

The process is so complicated, she said, many officers just used their cell phones to call dispatch for information that day. “This incident is what opened our eyes to realize that it is a little difficult to do the way it is, and we need to find a way to make it easier,” she explained.

Longview Police Department has their own dispatch, but in Smith County nearly a dozen agencies are all connected through one dispatch center. “I can go to Longview and still talk on our radios to our dispatch, so we’ve got a good system here,” Sergeant Dewayne Gray with Smith County Sheriff’s Office said.

In a situation like that multi-county high-speed chase, there would be just one channel, Gray said, with no switches necessary. “Our radios will work outside the county in the car. If we get out of the vehicle, we have handhelds that don’t work all the time; it depends on where we are,” he explained.

All agree that at times weather or terrain can interfere with radio frequency, causing them to go out, but it doesn’t happen often and there is a protocol in place. “Maybe the two dispatchers would even be talking by land line phone, but at least there would be communication between officer in car A from this county and officer in car B from the adjacent county,” Officer Dan Finkelstein with Whitehouse Police said.

He explained that radio systems and their capabilities vary nationwide saying, “Whether they would always be able to communicate with officers within the county that they just entered, that would be a variable.”

Now that it’s happened, Longview Police Department is switching it up. “What we plan on doing now is having that switched over so it’ll be a one step; just turn a knob and the cars will immediately be able to communicate with each other and then they can also turn over and change and communicate with other counties as well,” Styles explained.

A simple switch, so the sound of the radio never goes silent.

Longview Police Department said they are not sure when the change will take place, but they are discussing options now. Many departments we spoke with said they are looking into an interoperability system that would allow all of them to talk on the same channel no matter where they are. Some agencies in larger cities like Houston have already adopted the interoperability system. Now, they said, it is just a matter of waiting for everyone to get on board.

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