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Albuquerque first responders receive $38 million radio upgrade

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque first responders will soon see some changes to their radio equipment.

Albuquerque Fire Rescue, Albuquerque Police Department, New Mexico State Police and other emergency departments will receive a $38 million upgrade to their communication equipment, allowing responders from multiple agencies to communicate with each other more easily.

The last upgrade to first responders’ radios happened more than 15 years ago, and radio dead spots across the city and other issues have plagued the system.

“We are on older, antiquated radio systems and we’re unable to talk to the rest of the state, which have already been updating their radio systems,” Mayor Tim Keller told a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Keller said many of the radios are in such poor condition that they must be taped to keep the batteries from falling out.

Keller referenced the 2018 shooting at the Ben E. Keith warehouse where three people were shot and a chase for Waid Anthony Melton spanned multiple police jurisdictions in Bernalillo County and Sandoval County before Melton killed himself.

“Our departments were all communicating and a credit to them for communicating across jurisdictions with Sandoval County officials, but it was incredibly burdensome,” Keller said.

In 2019, state lawmakers came up with appropriations to upgrade the current communication system. The new system is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Thousands of radios will have to be purchased and installed with the department’s software.

“That’s how you get up to such an expensive system. For us, I think it will save lives across central New Mexico,” Keller said.

The new communication systems will be a step up from their old counterparts, often refurbished with replacement parts from eBay, said AFR spokesman Lt. Tom Ruiz.

“A new radio system will take advantage of all the technologies that have come about in the past 20 years,” Ruiz said.

The new Motorola radio systems will use location services to show the position of every unit. The radios will also have Wi-Fi capabilities and will be able to connect to other Wi-Fi networks such as those used at the University of New Mexico and Albuquerque Public Schools campuses.

The radio system will also have a texting feature.

“If there is an incident where we need to be private or not have radio transmissions, the dispatch center can then text the officer,” Ruiz said.