Law enforcement uses two radio systems to communicate

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- Public safety is always a major concern for us at KEPR.

We learned law enforcement agencies in our area use two different forms of radios to communicate with each other.

Police officers rely heavily on their ability to talk to each other. And, in 2014, that's still done using a radio.

If officers are chasing a suspect and that person moves between jurisdictions, the communication among police becomes all the more critical.

"If you can't talk to yourselves, if you can't talk to the dispatch center, then that communication breaks down and safety breaks down," says Richland Police Department Capt. Mike Cobb.

He says that breakdown has become a concern. All law enforcement agencies in Benton County have upgraded to the same system. From Prosser to Finley, they can all talk over a digital 800-MHz system.

It was paid for with a federal grant. But much of Franklin County is stuck on the old system.

What's called a VHF radio has been around more than 35 years. And that's where Capt. Cobb says there's an issue.

"The two systems just are not compatible," he says.

He says there are weekly issues when trying to communicate with agencies in Franklin County.

Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim isn't concerned. He says he hasn't heard of any issues.

Reporter: "Is there any 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."

An upgrade would cost upwards of $5 million. Sheriff Lathim told me he has no plans to seek federal money to make the switch.

Reporter: "Is there any push toward moving to a new system at least in Franklin County?"
Lathim: "No. We're satisfied with the VHF system, and, like I said, our first priority is taking care of our citizens. We're definitely not going to go down a road where we have to cut back deputies in order to pay for a system, because that's counterproductive."

The success or the failure of the communication in town is left to the ear of the beholder.

Pasco police still use the VHF system but are moving towards the 800-MHz radios. Their new rigs are equipped with a hybrid of the two so both can be used, but they hope to upgrade completely as they can pay for it.