Police fears over radio network

SUFFOLK'S police federation chief today said communications giant O2 would be “risking the safety of officers” if it went ahead with plans to shut some of the base stations which provide radio cover to the force.

SUFFOLK'S police federation chief today said communications giant O2 would be “risking the safety of officers” if it went ahead with plans to shut some of the base stations which provide radio cover to the force.

O2 provides airwave cover for officers across the county via a network of base stations but is planning on closing five of those stations because, the company says, they are no longer needed.

However, the proposals have caused worry among senior police officers and union officials who believe police may lose coverage in some areas leaving them at risk.

Jim Keeble, chairman of Suffolk police federation, said: “I do think this will be risking safety. If I was sent to a violent domestic in a house with very intermittent coverage and I was suddenly turned on and attacked and I called for help and no one could hear me, the consequences could be disastrous.”


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But Rupert Cazalet, spokesman for O2, said the force's fears were unfounded.

He said coverage would not be lost anywhere and explained the company had too many base stations with some areas of coverage currently overlapping.

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He said: “When the contracts were set up initially we negotiated coverage with police authorities and the base stations were put in to cover each authority, now the scheme is national some can be removed without removing the contracted coverage. When we got the national system there was some overlapping.”

However, police in Suffolk do not agree and the issue is to be highlighted at the Police Authority's strategy committee meeting next week.

In a report compiled for that committee it is claimed the switch off provides a “major risk to officer safety”.

Mr Keeble said he does not believe the computer model, which O2 is using to determine which stations should go, is reliable.

He said the model suggested switching off a station in South Lowestoft but when the scheme was tested some coverage was lost.

He added: “Computer models and reality are not the same thing. I would like to see the coverage remain the same or even be enhanced so that there are no blackspots and so officers can attend somewhere in the middle of rural Suffolk and get 100 per cent coverage.

“If officers were to be compromised due to a reduction in coverage, I believe O2 should be responsible for that.”

O2 is planning to remove stations throughout the country and negations are currently ongoing between the company and the Police Information Technology Organisation.

What do you think of O2's plans? Write to: Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail: eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

Weblinks: www.suffolk.police.uk; www.airwaveservice.co.uk

Chief Superintendent David McDonnell of Suffolk Constabulary said: “This is a fluid situation with negotiations ongoing between ourselves and O2. In fact a meeting took place on Friday to discuss revised proposals which are a significant improvement on the initial proposals.

“Negotiations are still ongoing and there has already been considerable movement away from the initial position, which is outlined in the Police Authority report.

“It is not known what the final financial implications are likely to be or how many base stations will be affected.

“We can assure people that no base stations will be switched off until after full negotiations have taken place.

“Suffolk Constabulary and O2 are committed to ensuring that there will be no reduction in service and no officers will be placed at risk.”

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