Sixty Abbotsford Police officers who were deployed to assist in the Stanley Cup riot in June placed themselves in greater risk because they did not have an adequate radio system, Chief Bob Rich said Tuesday morning.
But thanks to the implementation of a new communication network, that situation will not happen again, Rich said at the official launch of the E-Comm wide-area radio system.
The Abbotsford Police Department (APD) began using the $900,000-a-year system last month, and it is making a “huge difference,” he added.
Rich said there were numerous problems with the previous 14-year-old VHF system, which frequently dropped transmission in certain areas of the city or provided garbled communication between officers, or between officers and dispatch.
“It was not working for the Abbotsford Police Department, and it was not working for the citizens of Abbotsford.”
The new network now provides 97 per cent coverage, he said during the launch event at Thunderbird Square.
Rich recalled an incident when he experienced the inadequacy of the old system. He had just come to Abbotsford after a long stint with the Vancouver Police Department, which has belonged to E-Comm since the late 1990s.
He said he was with officers responding to a shots-fired report. They were calling for back-up when the radio crackled and went dead.
“We were there on our own, and I thought, ‘This is not good.’ “
The challenges again arose during the Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver, when the portable radios carried by APD officers did not link with the system used by officers from other detachments.
“To not be in communication with the people running that situation and tactically moving officers around … is really quite dangerous,” Rich said.
The APD is the first agency outside of Metro Vancouver to join E-Comm and can now link with the 14 other police departments that are on the network, including Langley and Maple Ridge.
Sgt. Casey Vinet said the difference in the old and new system were immediately apparent. He said the clarity is “far superior” and officers no longer have to repeat themselves due to distorted transmission.
The new radios also have an emergency button that, in a situation where the officer cannot verify his or her identity, automatically indicates whose device it is and where the officer is.
Vinet said these differences can save “precious seconds” that are crucial in an emergency.
“This is our lifeline,” he said of the portable radios officers carry.
Tiffany Budgell, an APD communication operator, said the new network’s improved transmission makes her job easier.
“It removes a lot of the stress out of the job both for our officers and our dispatchers because we can understand each other.”
During the launch event, Rich conversed with Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu over E-Comm to demonstrate its clarity.
Also on hand for the event were Mayor George Peary and E-Comm president and CEO David Guscott, who said 200 portable radios have been assigned to Abbotsford officers, and they have already spoken on the new system more than 180,000 times.