Calhoun commission supports sheriff’s communications proposal
by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Jun 16, 2010 | 2365 views |  1 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sheriff Larry Amerson is moving forward with plans to implement a communications system upgrade after gaining support from the Calhoun County Commission Tuesday.

The sheriff asked the commission to issue a purchase order for infrastructure improvements, which is key in allow-ing the $1.2 million upgrade to begin. The commission agreed to do so pending its reception of two signed docu-ments. The first will be between Amerson and Motorola, the company that will provide the communication system and the second is signed agreement ensuring the sheriff would pay for system maintenance.

“What I wanted to know was what it’s going to cost, who it’s going to cost and what is it going to cost to the county treasury,” said Calhoun County Administrator Ken Joiner,who recommended the upgrade after Amerson addressed the council. “He had obtained the money and said he would pay for the maintenance.”

The new system will use towers currently used throughout the county for a radio system funded by the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, supported by the federal government. Currently those towers are used only for radio communication and though the CSEPP program will soon leave the county, Amerson plans to use three of the existing towers to transmit data for the first time.

With the new system, a mobile data transmission box will be placed in each patrol car and used to transmit informa-tion such as tag numbers and addresses to officers in the field, cutting back on the number of radio calls made to dispatchers. Amerson said those boxes are currently at McCord Communication in Anniston awaiting purchase, which will now take place because the sheriff has secured funding for the infrastructure to support them.

“This is not old technology. This is cutting edge technology,” Amerson said, addressing some claims that the equipment is inefficient.

Amerson is paying for the project with multiple federal grants, an allocation of Homeland Security money and money set aside from pistol permits, inmate phone systems and the jail commissary. It will be used to purchase equipment needed for his office’s upgrade and equipment needed for other public safety departments throughout the county who would like to join the data system.

“This system I’m buying for you can be used by any public safety official in the county,” Amerson told the commis-sion. “Where we go with that money really depends on who decides to join.”

The sheriff said his new system could help integrate the communications systems for first responders in the county, a move that is supported by public safety officials across the county. However area police chiefs have a different idea for integrating communications.

They would like to use local grant money to buy new software and support transmitting data using air cards, which are provided by national cell phone companies, the chiefs wrote to commissioners in a letter dated May 28.

“The air card provides a far more flexible / robust system without having to create an infrastructure that a group would have to maintain like the 800 radio system,” the letter stated. “Second, the Verizon, Sprint/NexTel or AT&T systems allow for greater coverage than just Calhoun County.”

The sheriff says that those air cards could crash in a time of emergency when people sometimes jam the system. One reason he advocates using the CSEPP towers for data is because they are closed to the general public. Amerson said that would make his system more secure during a mass emergency, such as a tornado outbreak.

Amerson and Chief Deputy Mathew Wade took questions about the system throughout the commission’s work session. Despite their approval, some members of the commission initially expressed hesitation over the sheriff’s plan because of the controversy surrounding its implementation.

“I have been very concerned and the commission has been very concerned,” Commissioner J.D. Hess said. “We want to do great things for this county and if we don’t watch every dollar … we could be in trouble because it could cost more money than we can provide.”

Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.

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Calhoun commission supports sheriff’s communications proposal by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com

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