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Editorial: New radios that connect our first responders? 10-4!

Are our law enforcement officers and firefighters finally going to be able to talk to each other on their radios? After decades of systems that don’t interface and dead spots that put everyone in the dark, if not in danger, is this really going to happen?

Thanks to an appropriation from state lawmakers last year, Albuquerque police, Albuquerque Fire Rescue, State Police and other departments are receiving $38 million to upgrade their radio systems. Mayor Tim Keller says the city’s first responders can’t talk to other agencies on their radios, and radio dead spots have plagued the city’s system, which hasn’t been upgraded in more than 15 years.

The lack of integration has been a long-standing problem, such as in 2018 when three people were shot at the Ben E. Keith warehouse in Albuquerque. A chase for the suspect spanned multiple police jurisdictions in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties, during which police had to improvise to communicate because of radio problems. And during the law enforcement surge last summer, State Police and APD officers could not talk via radio.

AFR spokesman Lt. Tom Ruiz says the new radio systems will take advantage of technologies that have come about in the past 20 years, such as location services to show the position of every unit, Wi-Fi capabilities and a texting feature that will allow the dispatch center to text an officer. These are all basic 21st century technology tools in much of the civilian world – though granted much of New Mexico struggles with connectivity. Parents routinely track their children’s cellphones, Wi-Fi is a given way to save on your data plan and texting is the new calling. First responders should have all of these at their fingertips.

Much work remains to be done, as thousands of radios will have to be purchased and programmed. And it needs to be done right. This upgrade should not be a repeat of the many multimillion-dollar computer hardware and software debacles in state and local government, or the first-generation body cameras that had myriad issues.

Better radio connectivity for first responders from multiple agencies has the potential to save lives and improve service all across central New Mexico. The city is right to place the project on the front burner, with the goal of implementing the new system by the end of the year, because every minute counts during an emergency.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.