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Radio issues continue in north end of county for emergency responders

Three local emergency response agencies are dealing with significant radio communication issues that create safety concerns for law enforcement officers and firefighters.

The Poplarville Police Department, Poplarville Fire Department and the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department are all dealing with issues when trying to communicate with dispatch via radio.

The Poplarville Police Department is working with the county’s centralized dispatch and the Mississippi Wireless Communication Commission to address the radio communication issues.

The Poplarville Police Department attempted a fix by using newer portable radios, but officers are still having trouble communicating with dispatch, said Police Chief Danny Collier.

Although the police department’s radio issues are still occurring, they have improved somewhat, said Collier. County IT Director Carey Meitzler, said the dispatchers have been especially attentive to calls from Poplarville emergency responders because they are aware of the radio issues.

The Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department has been battling radio communication issues for at least the last three years, said Sheriff David Allison. Allison said his department was hoping when the dispatch consolidation occurred in January, the new equipment would fix the radio communication issues, but that has not been the case. To his knowledge, the communication issues have not gotten worse for his department with the dispatch consolidation.

The death of Lt. Michael Boutte with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department emphasizes the need for reliable radio communication, said Allison.

“We need good communication,” said Allison. “Unfortunately what happened in Hancock County proves that, not that they had a radio communication problem there, but it just goes to show you that each traffic stop and each call they go on is a dangerous situation and they need to be able to get a hold of dispatch.”

The communication issues are especially bad in the north end of the county, said Allison. When the department first got onto the Mississippi Wireless Information Network, communication worked very well, and it’s unclear why the problems began, said Allison.

The Mississippi Wireless Information Network that the local agencies use for radio communication guarantees 97 percent mobile radio coverage, but portable radio coverage is not guaranteed. Both the Sheriff’s Department and the Poplarville Police Department use portable radios. Mobile radios are units installed within a vehicle.

Allison said the Sheriff’s Department considered purchasing radios for the cars, and even pursued grant money to do so. However, by the time the grant application was rejected, the plans for consolidating the dispatch were being finalized, so they waited to see if the new system would fix the communication issues.

If the radio issues are not resolved quickly, then Allison said he will go back to the county’s Board of Supervisors to pursue funding for mobile radios.
The county is also in the process of hiring two additional dispatchers, which would bring the number of dispatchers up to a total of five, said Meitzler. Before dispatch was consolidated, the county dispatch center in Millard had three dispatchers and the city of Picayune had two.