In certain areas of Esquimalt, members of the Victoria Police Department know their radio will be useless.
Precautions have been put in place where officers radio just before they go into these certain areas, explained acting Insp. Jason Laidman with the police Esquimalt division. But sometimes new areas are found that work today and don’t tomorrow.
It’s a problem Laidman calla frustrating at times, but he can’t say how many areas are cut off from radio communication in Esquimalt. It has, however, had an impact on officer’s work.
“If we’re dealing with someone who is a suspect in something who could potentially turn violent then it’s an officer safety issue if we can’t call for help,” said Laidman, adding the issue is one of his top concerns. “The other side is public safety where somebody else needs help and we still can’t call for help.”
With the installation of a monopole in Esquimalt during the next few weeks, Laidman is hoping the issue will no longer be a priority on his list of concerns.
Capital Regional Emergency Service Telecommunications (CREST), which provides radio communications for about 50 emergency response agencies in the region, including fire, police and ambulance, is moving ahead with the planned replacement of its 13-year-old regional radio system.
According to CREST General Manager Gordon Horth, the technology will be based on digital radio technology known as Project 25, which provides enhanced audio clarity and improved coverage. Upgrades to the technology include the installation of new transmitters/receivers, conversion of existing radio sites and the purchase of new radios for first responders.
A total of 20 new transmission sites are being installed across the region, along with a new 88-foot monopole in Esquimalt’s Highrock Park — the highest point of land in the township. A new site will also be added in Victoria’s James Bay for a total of six new transmission sites on top of tall buildings in the urban core.
“Esquimalt was our highest priority. Officers have challenging communication at times…this new pole covers off that coverage area,” said Horth, adding coverage at the moment comes primarily from signals in downtown Victoria and the West Shore.
“Having a facility in Esquimalt just lessens that distance and provides a stronger footprint.”
In 2014, the CREST board of directors approved a $24.5 million investment in a five-year upgrade to public safety, with the infrastructure component accounting for roughly half of the project. The pole in Esquimalt is part of the first phase.
Laidman has high hopes officers will see an improvement when it comes to radio communication, noting officers in the past have patrolled in pairs because they might not be able to call for backup. Although the situation has improved, Laidman said nobody can predict how good the upgrades will actually be.
“Our members have been waiting a long time for a good radio system,” he said. “This was one of the top concerns. I sure hope it isn’t anymore.”
Construction of the base for the monopole is slated to take place during several weeks in October and November, with the park being closed for one day during the pole installation. Other parks in the region with various transmission installations include Mount Tolmie and Mount Doug.