A couple of billboards in Norwich are asking people to vote to replace the police department’s radio system, which was designed back in the 1940s.
Officers said there’s often static and in some part of the city, the signal doesn’t even work. They say it’s a problem when it comes to both the safety of the public and police—especially if they can’t call for backup, or communicate with dispatch or fellow officers.
“I have no idea what that guy said. He could be calling for help. I could be right around the corner,” said Norwich Officer Brad Fournier after hearing a lot of static come out of his radio along with a faint hum of the voice of one of his colleagues.
Fournier said the current police radio system has poor signal. Once, a person got physical with him in a parking lot on the busy Salem Turnpike. Fournier’s radio signal cut out completely and he was fortunately assisted by an off-duty State Police trooper.
The signal dropped in the same spot again Monday, less than three miles from the police department. Fournier had to call four times.
“As a pastor, I’m really concerned about my neighbors and as a chaplain, I’m concerned about the safety of our officers,” said Chaplain Chuck Tyree, treasurer of the Norwich Police Chaplain Program.
Since state election rules prevent police from spending public funds or employee time to promote a city referendum item, the Norwich Police Chaplain Program created a Public Action Committee to raise money for two billboards in Norwich. The read, “Saving Your Life and Theirs.” The next line reads “Vote YES on Question #3: Public Safety Radio System.”
It’s a proposed 20-year, $2.7 million bond on the ballot this November to replace the Norwich police radio system and make it part of the statewide radio system. It would involve constructing two modern antenna sites and a system upgrade.
Tyree and the group crowdsourced at least $1,600 for the project. Off-duty Norwich officers posed for the fictional scene depicted on the billboards. One is hung near Putnam Bank on West Main Street (Route 82), visible to drivers entering downtown. The other is on West Thames Street (Route 32).
Chief Patrick Daley said partnering with the state system cuts the cost from $8 to $10 million to the proposed $2.7 million.
“(It’s) already a built system, a proven system,” Daley said. “And it’s a lot quicker to get up and running. Instead of having three to four years to build, we’ll be operational by this time next year if the bond passes.”
As for the tax impact to residents, the median valued single-family Norwich home would pay $11 in fiscal year 2020, $14 the year after that, then the cost declines in the following years.
“And the one thing about the state system, it upgrades as it goes along,” Daley said. “So there’s no big dollar thing. It’s just constantly upgraded as needed.”
Daley said it’s getting tougher and tougher to find replacement equipment for the Low Band Radio System. Sometimes the department needs to go to Ebay to get parts.
The current antenna is on a utility pole and not properly weatherproofed, Daley added.
When he was asked to list an example of the radio system not working, Daley replied, “There’s too many to list, to be honest with you. It happens every day.”
Already Stonington and Town of Groton Police are in the midst of joining the statewide system.
When asking Norwich residents about their opinion on the referendum item, a few said it’s definitely needed and something they’d consider voting for. One woman said while she thinks the new radio system is necessary, she doesn’t think she should be responsible for the cost.