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Statewide Radio Network Eases Communication For St. Louis Police, State Highway Patrol

(Credit: Flickr/Brad Tutterow)

The St. Patrick's Day Parade marked the first time the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department relied on a single, statewide radio network to communicate with each other. And, according to all parties, the experience was a success.

Inter-operable communications have been an issue since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when first responders couldn't communicate with each other because they all used different frequencies. The technology to set up a network so first responders can all talk to each other just became available in Missouri within the last year. Some statewide channels are always available, and smaller ones can be set up for special events.

Highway Patrol Lt. Robert Wolf said his department and the St. Louis police started talking about using a statewide network after this year’s Mardi Gras celebration, an event to which the Highway Patrol frequently provides extra staff. Wolf said the way the different departments used to communicate was cumbersome and would slow response time.

"My officers would call to me and then I would turn to the city command post and make a request, or have them call their dispatcher and make that request," Wolf said of the old communication process. "Potentially for one communication, we were having to go through as many as four people to make it happen."

The two departments decided to give the statewide network a try during the St. Patrick’s Day parade. It enabled troopers and officers to talk directly to each other and for the troopers to talk to city dispatchers. The process went well, Wolf said.

"One of our officers had a subject that was possibly having a heart attack, so we were able to call for the medical assistance directly," he said.

The Highway Patrol had experimented with inter-operable communications systems before, but on a much smaller scale.  The Patrol’s Troop E, near Poplar Bluff, set up a network with the Sikeston Department of Public Safety for that city’s rodeo in the past. But the St. Patrick’s Day parade was the first large-scale event. Wolf said the St. Louis police and state police will likely use a similar set-up at Fair St. Louis in July.

"We have found this, and it worked very well," he said. "The number of towers that the city has available that we’re able to then talk into, it just made our communications that much better."

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.