Chief Metzger on two-radio system: "We're concerned"

PASCO, Wash. -- KEPR is following up on our story about the two different radio systems used by Tri-Cities law enforcement.

Many agencies have upgraded to a new system, but Franklin County has not and has no plans to. Sheriff Richard Lathim says there haven't been problems with the radios they use.

But after our story, the Chief of the Pasco Police Department was quick to contact us and say that's just not true.

Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim was quick to defend his agency's use of the VHF radio system earlier this week.

Reporter: "Is there a time where you guys have needed to communicate with another law enforcement agency maybe on a chase or something like that, where it hasn't worked or gone through?
Lathim: "I'm not familiar with anything."

Yet Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger says that's just not true.

"I have talked to the sheriff about problems with the radio system," Metzger says. "We've had a couple of user group meetings and other meetings. And I've gone to his office and told him about, 'Here's the problems that we're having in Pasco that we need to directly take care of,' so I don't know where that's coming from."

The Chief says the old VHF system has glaring issues that come up almost daily. Most other agencies are now using the 800-megahertz system that's considered more reliable. Pasco hasn't made the full switch. It uses a hybrid of both.

So we got a look at both radios.

Using the 800-megahertz system, it sounds crystal clear with digital sound.

Then we listened to Franklin County's VHF system using radio waves. In listening for about a minute, the only communication we heard was barely audible.

It's why Chief Metzger is pushing to fully transfer his department to the digital system.

"We're so concerned about our communication with the officers that we gave them each a cellphone that they can direct connect when their radio doesn't work," he says.

We wanted to get all sides and give Sheriff Lathim a chance to respond to his critic. But he never returned our calls.

We were told by the sheriff on Tuesday that the digital system would cost upwards of $5 million.

But Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck tells me there's no exact number tied to it. They're still working on a cost analysis.

Peck also said there are "clear advantages and benefits" to the newer radios. Chief Metzger says it's all about safety.

"I know what the system can and should be able to do. And I know what it's not being able to do now," he says.

If Pasco moves towards all-digital, Franklin County would be the only agency left in the Tri-Cities area using the VHF system.