$68M Police Radio System Fails, Again

Eight out of 10 radio towers were out of service for several hours

It happened once again. The city's $68 million police radio system crashed early Wednesday morning leaving police officers unable to communicate over radio.

The system went down between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. after an entire rack of circuits failed at Verizon's central communications center rendering eight of the city's 10 radio towers useless, Philadelphia deputy commissioner of communications Frank Punzo said.

City officials and the Fraternal Order of Police are arguing over how severe of an outage occurred. The city says only 20 percent of service was affected while the FOP claims service was non-existent.

"The radio system completely failed leaving our officers unable to communicate," John McGrodie of the Fraternal Order of Police told NBC10's Lu Ann Cahn.

A backup system did move into operation after the primary failed, Punzo said. City officials credited the backup system with preventing a widespread outage, but the FOP believes the interruption of service shows that the backup is also faulty.

"The fact that we had a problem implies that the backup system failed," said McGrodie.

The last major failure of the system was in June 2008 when police radios were silent for almost an hour after a lightning strike. During that outage, officials deployed three backup systems, all which failed. A fourth backup finally worked correctly.

Wednesday's failure comes on the heels of city council's approval of a new $34 million contract with Motorola to improve and expand the radio system with a goal of eliminating outages. The funding for the new contract is set to come from the state's 911 fund.

Officers were ordered to work with partners for the rest of the day as a precaution. Officials from the city, Verizon and Motorola will be monitoring the system's performance overnight.

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