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Police officials hit timetable for upgrading safety system

Niagara County Manager Greg Lewis said Friday the county has a five-year plan to join the state's $2 billion dollar public safety wireless system, but representatives from local police departments said that meanwhile county money is being wasted on outdated technology.

M/A Com Communications was awarded the state's largest-ever bid to upgrade the state's public safety communications. Erie and Chautauqua counties will be the first online, with other counties across the state to follow in the next three years. The new radio units have been called "computers with antennas," which allow both voice and data transmission on a secure and private state network.

Lewis said a strategic plan to join the system has been adopted.

City of Lockport Police Detective Lt. Richard Podgers, who does radio and technology purchasing for the city, called the county spending priorities "silly" and said the county could have immediately become a full participant, like Erie County, but chose not to.

"Recently, they expended one-quarter of a million dollars to bring simulcast to multiple towers," Podgers said. "If they had waited, the new state system already does this. The county continues to maintain separate towers [from the state], and towns who rely on the Niagara County Sheriff's Department for dispatch are unable to join the new state wireless system."
Podgers said towns were being forced to buy new modems and mobile radios for the outdated county system, rather than being allowed to buy state-of-the-art radios that are compatible with the state's new system.

He said Lockport, with its own dispatch system, could join the new state system without the county but didn't have the money.

"Lockport was supposed to get $187,000, but the county plans to spend our money on [outdated] analog modems. . .," Podgers said. "The county is holding us hostage."

James Suitor, president of the Niagara County Police Chiefs Organization and Town of Niagara chief of police, said that for years he has been trying to get out information about the state's wireless system, and finally called a meeting Friday.

"This is a golden opportunity to join this system and save [the county] hundreds of thousands of dollars," Suitor said. "There's no leadership at the county level. The county should have hosted this meeting. All of the police chiefs are in agreement. If the county is building a new system and using homeland security money, we should be doing it as effectively as possible."

Lewis said after the meeting that he felt ambushed by the group.

"This was a surprise meeting," he said. "It was not appropriate. We need to be working together."

Lewis said Suitor was part of a committee on homeland security "but has chosen not to participate."

Lewis said the county is lined up to join the state system in 2007-08, which will give the state time to work out the kinks.

New York State project manager Mikel Shakarijian said the state expects to have 65,000 users and 250,000 individual subscriber units in the system in the next three years. She said it is cheap to bring on local agencies once the infrastructure is put into place by the state.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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