Oakland County launches new countywide radio system

By: Kathryn Pentiuk | Farmington Press | Published April 22, 2024

 Southfield’s dispatch center was one of the 20 dispatch centers in Oakland County that received updates. The new dispatch center fits up to seven dispatchers.

Southfield’s dispatch center was one of the 20 dispatch centers in Oakland County that received updates. The new dispatch center fits up to seven dispatchers.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


OAKLAND COUNTY — Farmington Hills Police Chief Jeff King said that his confidence in a new countywide radio system is high, and that there have already been benefits.

“It’s delivered so far on all of its promises,” King said. “It has some emergency capability for the officers, in regards to the satellite GPS tracking of officers. Things that our old system never had, this new system has, to where if an officer was to get in trouble and was not able to communicate with us, we would be able to utilize the system as another means to locate that officer.”

Oakland County first responders can now be anywhere in the state and contact their home base or communicate with other agencies through radio with the implementation of the county’s $61 million radio system from Motorola.

Farmington Public Safety Director Bob Houhanisin described the new system as great and said that it has been a long time coming. He cited clarity and reception as a couple of the improvements over the old system.

“It works better in all areas of our city,” Houhanisin said. “This radio system works differently than traditional, older systems, where it just sent the signal out. If you used, like a walkie-talkie or VHF radio, it sent the signal out — whoever could get it could get it. This actually has to get clearance from a tower and then repeats the signal back out, so if you can’t reach a tower with your radio, you can’t transmit a signal, but this system doesn’t seem to have any problems with that for our officers in our city.”

Houhanisin added that the system is simple to use.

“There’s been zero issues on our end of it,” he said. “I think it’s a great investment in the safety of our officers and our firefighters.”

King said that the core tenants of what officers do have not changed in almost 200 years, since policing was modernized in 1829.

“But what has had unbelievable advances in law enforcement is technology,” King said. “We’ve made such great advancements. … The radio system is one of those core pieces of equipment we have: our communication. The technology that brings and the capability that brings is making us a better police department, a safer police department.”

Previously, when officers would enter larger industrial buildings, they would often lose radio communication, leaving officers to search buildings unable to communicate with each other and with the dispatch center inside the station.

“How many of you have ever dropped a call on your cellphone? Come on, by a show of hands?” Dave Coulter, Oakland County executive, asked attendees of the press conference held March 27 at Southfield City Hall. “It’s frustrating. It’s irritating. But imagine that you’re a first responder, and you’re on your radio system, and you drop a call. That’s not just frustrating or irritating. It can be dangerous, and it can prevent you from doing the job that you’ve sworn to do.”

The new system is integrated into the Michigan Public Safety Communication System and connects 2,231 public safety agencies and 126 dispatch centers around the state, which are also operating on the system. According to a press release from Oakland County, the new system supports 41 fire departments, 34 police agencies, seven public safety agencies and 20 dispatch centers in the county.

The funding comes from 911 surcharges on phone bills and $5 million from the Oakland County Board of Commissioners’ general fund.

During the press conference, it was stressed how significant this technology change will be during the NFL Draft in Detroit later this month.

The countywide radio system equips first responders with over 6,000 new radios and 20 upgraded 911 dispatch centers, including one in Southfield.

Southfield’s new dispatch center was updated in November last year and seats up to seven dispatchers.

Southfield Police Lt. Teresa Young emphasized the importance of this new radio system.

“Radio communications is one of the most important aspects of officer safety outside of outstanding training,” Young said. “In Southfield, we discovered that our old radio system was not meeting our officers’ needs, and over time, it was a real officer safety issue. Officers were consistently losing signal within city limits. They lost signal every time we had to leave the city, and we had no way of communicating or listening to radio traffic of surrounding jurisdictions.”

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard addressed transparency concerns and explained that the new system is encrypted.

“Our last system was encrypted, OpenSky. We believe it’s important to be encrypted because our adversaries are not dumb. They’re utilizing scanners to listen to response. We know that the teams in Mumbai were listening to and actually watching video coverage of what the police were doing to thwart their deadly efforts. And so if we don’t have the ability to communicate our strategy, let’s say it’s a hostage situation — without them knowing what we’re about to do — that’s going to put lives at risk.”

Bouchard that, “for the average person that just wants to hear what’s going on, I understand that interest, but the dangers associated with us not being able to have our strategy, our response and our capability private in the moment when it’s happening can cause lives to be lost.”

For more information, visit www.oakgov.com and search “Enhanced Public Safety with New Radio System.”