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How Obama's visit showed Oakland radios' unreliability

The Oakland Police Officers Association says the city's cops have no faith in their year-old radio system. The radios' faults were clearly demonstrated during President Barack Obama's visit earlier this week.

By Terry CollinsAssociated Press / July 26, 2012

In this file photo, Carrie Medina, of Portland, Ore., argues with an Obama supporter during a protest in Oakland, Calif. A major portion of Oakland's year-old police radio system failed during President Obama's visit to the city this week.

AP Photo/The Contra Costa Times, Dan Honda, File

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OAKLAND, Calif.

This city's year-old $18 million police radio system failed repeatedly during President Barack Obama's visit to Oakland on Monday and during protests surrounding it.

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Many of the 100 police officers assigned to presidential security duty that day were unable at times to communicate through their radios with police dispatchers, and even with each other, during the president's fundraiser at a downtown theater, according to the head of the city's police union.

At one point, officers couldn't reach dispatchers for about 30 minutes, said Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association. Another time, some officers reported that the radios failed altogether shortly after the president departed and some protesters began blocking downtown streets.

"It doesn't work, that's the bottom line. Our officers have absolutely no confidence with this current radio system," Donelan told The Associated Press on Thursday. "It puts my officers and the citizens they serve in serious jeopardy because of its unreliability."

City officials said Thursday that while some officers experienced some "intermittent" transmission problems, there never was a complete system shutdown and officers were able to communicate with each other.

"There was never a complete failure," said Police Chief Howard Jordan, who said he used the radio system on Monday.

The radio system that began operating in June 2011 was supposed to be a needed upgrade from the previous analog network reputed to have numerous dead zones in some of the most dangerous parts of town.

But the P25 digital system has been even more troublesome, plagued by breakdowns and dead spots that have left officers' vulnerable to blackouts across Oakland and even in many commercial buildings, including the basement of the downtown police headquarters.

An independent report commissioned by City Administrator Deanna Santana's office released last week said the new system needs numerous improvements due to "poor reception, unclear audio and speaker problems."

Santana said Thursday that the urgency to fix the system was prevalent long before Obama's visit.

"Clearly there are some issues for us to address," Santana said. "The urgency is always been one of the issues that's been front and center."

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