MEDICINE PARK – First responders in this Comanche County town are enlisting assistance from a local grant-writing professional in their bid to secure funds to buy nearly three dozen radios plus body cameras and a communications signal repeater.
The community’s police and fire departments are coping with a shortage of 800 megahertz radios that are 13 to 15 years old and are at, or near the end, of their design life. A telecommunications repeater is needed, too, because of several “dead spots” in town – such as Granite Ridge and along Medicine Creek downtown – where two-way conversations are non-existent or garbled because of static, Assistant Police Chief Tom Crawford said.
The Medicine Park Police Department has two full-time and eight part-time officers, but only four hand-held two- way radios.
The entire state has a necklace of communication towers, but Medicine Park has poor reception in some areas because of line-of-sight issues dealing with radio transmission and reception, he said.
When first responders enter some buildings downtown, a dispatcher often can contact them only by calling them on their personal mobile telephones because their hand-held department radios get no reception in those locations, Crawford said.
When Medicine Park first responders are downtown in areas along the creek or in locations that are out of the line-of-sight with telecommunications towers, their outdated radios cannot communicate with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Comanche County Sheriff’s Department, the Lawton Police Department, the Lake Patrol, nor with Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge (WMWF) personnel, Crawford said.
When a fight broke out last month at Bath Lake, the dispatcher had to call police officers on their mobile phones because, “We had no radio reception down there,” Crawford recalled. In turn, the officers had to dial 911 in order to contact their dispatcher.
The manufacturer of the town’s two-way radios quit making replacement parts and software for those obsolete models last year, the Board of Trustees was told.
Consequently, Medicine Park first responders need 35 new 800 MHz radios, the board was informed: 10 handheld units for police officers and five units for police vehicles; a dozen hand-held units for firefighters and eight units that would be installed in fire department vehicles; along with 10 “body cams” for the police plus a repeater.
A repeater receives a signal and retransmits it. Transmissions are extended so the signal can cover longer distances or be received on the other side of an obstruction. A repeater stationed at a higher elevation can enable two mobile stations that are otherwise out of line-of-sight and unable to communicate with each other.
The cost of such a package would be several hundred thousand dollars, which is why the police and fire departments enlisted the aid of a grant-writer and Motorola.
In a related matter, the Board of Trustees is considering hiring a third full-time police officer.
“Our community is growing” and attracts thousands of visitors, Crawford noted. On weekends, traffic is often bumper-to-bumper through the Medicine Creek area, he said.
Visitation to the nearby Wildlife Refuge soared this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. “Since the first of the year we’ve had an additional three to four hundred thousand” visitors to the refuge, WMWR Visitor Services Manager Lynn Cartmell told Texoma News Network in mid-June. “I think the closest projection we have is about 387,000 additional people visit this year,” Cartmell said. During the first six months of last year her team estimated just over a million visitors.
“We got the overflow from that,” Crawford said.
Medicine Park also could use a third full-time officer to fill in when another officer is on leave or vacation, and to lend a hand on weekends when visitors or citizens get too rowdy. The town’s jurisdiction extends east almost to the H.E. Bailey Turnpike/ Interstate 44. Crawford said that when on duty he typically patrols 100 to 150 miles a day, and sometimes puts as many as 200 miles on the odometer.
The trustees postponed discussion of a third full-time police officer until the Aug. 20 meeting so Police Chief Tom Adrahtas can participate in the discussion.