By Sue Botos
Thanks to a new radio system, “Can you hear me now?” may not be a frequent question broadcast by Rocky River police officers.
Police Chief Kelly Stillman recently announced the department has secured 15 new radios from the county, linking the force with the Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS). The system allows municipal safety forces throughout Cuyahoga County and the state to be in touch with one another.
“Now we’re able to talk to our neighbors. With our old system, the technology is outdated. This is state-of-the-art,” Stillman told West Life. Aside from the ability to communicate with other municipalities, he said that the mobile radios, which will be used only by patrolling officers, will make for a safer ride.
“Now we sometimes can’t hear our officers,” he stated.
“This is a $40,000 gift from the county,” Stillman added. He said that this amount can now be subtracted from a total system upgrade, which he hopes to accomplish next year. The current “legacy” radio system will remain in squad cars until that time, and MARCS will be used to augment that method. Additionally, the old radios are necessary to contact agencies not using MARCS.
Stillman said that the fire division has had MARCS in place for several years. Rocky River will be one of the first Westshore police departments to sign on to the system, which has recently been employed by Lakewood.
The Cleveland Metroparks ranger department and Ohio state troopers also utilize MARCS.
According to information on the state website, www.das.ohio.gov, MARCS is an 800 MHz radio and data network that uses high-tech equipment to provide statewide “interoperability” for public safety and first responders, with digital clarity to subscribers throughout Ohio and within a 10-mile radius outside of the state.
The site further states that currently 1,200 public safety/service agencies have signed onto the wireless network, which operates through towers, much like cellphones.
Walter Topp, of the Cuyahoga County Office of Emergency Management, explained that the county has been encouraging communications interoperability among safety forces for more than 10 years. He said that since 2003, the county has spent more than $14 million to purchase and provide MARCS equipment to local safety forces.
“The county’s intent is to encourage municipalities to invest in and use a standard communications system that will be in use by agencies throughout the county,” Topp stated.
In order to receive the equipment, Topp said agencies must apply through the county office of emergency management and must agree to certain conditions. These include use of the system for “full-time primary police and fire communications,” as well as the sharing of “primary operations channels and mutual aid channels with all other communities in Cuyahoga County.”
Although MARCS can only be used to communicate with agencies also employing the system, Stillman said that he jumped at the chance to be on the cutting edge of this technology. “We can’t wait for others, we will push forward with this,” Stillman stated. He hopes to receive additional grants to outfit patrol cars with MARCS radios next year.
Topp added, “Operationally, the goal is for all public safety forces to be using a standard 700/800 MHz system so that police officers and firefighters from any city can communicate with safety forces in any other county community.”