Washington State troopers to change radio systems

Washington State Patrol troopers all over the state will switch over to a new digital radio system developed because of a change in rules by the Federal Communications Commission.

Troopers working in the Yakima area are the first to switch over to a new digital radio system developed because of a change in rules by the Federal Communications Commission.

All troopers will follow suit by the FCC’s deadline of Jan. 1. The rule change, intended to make more frequencies available for licensing, is essentially an unfunded federal mandate.

The state patrol was required to purchase new mobile and portable radios for every trooper, and replace a significant amount of equipment in dispatch centers and mountaintop relay sites.

Bob Schwent, commander of the Patrol’s Electronic Services Division, said cutting over well before the deadline gives them time to work out any bugs that might come with such a complicated new system.

“We’ve tested extensively, and we certainly believe we’re ready. Now it’s time to flip the switch and see what happens with real-life use,” Schwent said. “Technicians will be monitoring closely to see that Trooper or public safety is not compromised.”

Schwent says the old system will be left in place for awhile, and in the event of major problems troopers and dispatchers could switch back.

The original price tag for the new system was $53 million. A last-minute opportunity developed in the form of a partnership with federal law enforcement agencies that saved taxpayers $12 million.

Radio hobbyists or newsrooms used to monitoring the State Patrol on its traditional VHF radio frequencies will find their scanners eerily quiet.

New, digital scanners using the P25 protocol will be needed to hear WSP transmissions, which will not be encrypted. WSP cannot recommend a particular brand or model of scanner, but there are many competing manufacturers on the market.

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