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Big changes coming to police radio systems

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Police chiefs in Michigan are concerned that changes coming to the way the U.S. manages its broadcast spectrum may negatively affect their radio systems.

The Federal Communications Commission hopes to auction off part of the broadcast spectrum next year to meet growing demand for personal electronic devices.

The auction is expected to generate more than $20 billion dollars. 

The 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act calls for using part of the proceeds from the sale to create a nationwide public safety communications network. The idea grew out of the 9/11 Commission report that pointed to serious communication issues that arose during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. 

But cops worry the new system will impinge on their already fully utilized portion of the broadcast spectrum. Law enforcement officials also are concerned they’ll have to spend money to upgrade recently purchased communications systems to meet new FCC requirements.    

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Rep. Fred Upton (center) talks during a news conference Friday in Kalamazoo. He's flanked by FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai (left) and Kalamazoo Township Police Chief Tim Bourgeois

“Basically this whole thing boils down to one thing,” says Tim Bourgeois, Kalamazoo Township’s police chief, “We have one chance to do this and we cannot afford for this to go wrong.”

Several southwestern Michigan police chiefs sat down on Friday with Congressman Fred Upton and FCC commissioner Ajit Pai to discuss their concerns.

Upton chairs the House Energy and Commerce committee, which oversees communication and technology issues. 

“This is of the utmost importance to the safety and well-being of our first responders, not just here in Southwest Michigan but throughout the country,” said Upton.

After the closed door session, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said he plans to discuss the concerns raised by the police chiefs with his fellow commissioners.

“That’s a lesson I’m going to take to heart and speak with officials at FCC about,” Pai said after his Friday meeting with local law enforcement officials and Congressman Upton.

Bourgeois says the meeting with a Federal Communication Commissioner was productive.

“If things stay on track here, it just preserves the investment that we have already made,” says Bourgeois. 

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.