It's a problem that's well-documented by Chico Police. Their radios don't work in certain buildings, and in other areas in town. They say they can't communicate with the Chico Police Dispatch Center, or each other, and that puts them, and the public in danger. Retired Chico Police Detective Jose Lara says this is a problem that's plagued the department for years. In March 2004, Lara and another officer responded to a hostage standoff at Enloe Medical Center. He says as soon as he rushed into the building, he realized he was close to the unfolding situation. Says Lara, "A gentleman was upset about the care of his son, and he took two security officers hostage. We realized we couldn't communicate with dispatch. It's frustrating, and it's eerie." That standoff ended peacefully more than 90 minutes later, but Lara says it highlights the problem that has existed for years.
January 1, 2013, the FCC required all non-federal public safety licensees operating certain wideband radio systems to switch to narrowband transmissions. That includes the Chico Police Department. Chico Police Captain Lori MacPhail says the department was aware of the upcoming requirement, and prepared for the switch by inspecting all radios, and testing them in areas around town. But, she says the radio transmission problems only got worse, so the department is taking more action. MacPhail says, "The transmissions go through lines from these towers, into our dispatch center. Those lines were antiquated, and it was believed that the lines were not hearty enough to handle those different kinds of traffic, so they're being replaced with what's called AC1 conditioner lines." Once the lines are replaced in the towers around town leading into the dispatch center, they'll be tested. The department is using a federal grant for the upgrade, which they expect to cost around $16,000. MacPhail says if problems persist, the department will hire a consultant to find out how much it will cost to overhaul the city's radio transmission infrastructure, and that could cost millions.