In 1994, Austin police officer Peter Collins was helping a sheriff’s deputy serve an arrest warrant at a motel. When the man came climbing out the back window with a shotgun, Collins wanted to radio the deputy for help, but his radio didn’t connect with the sheriff’s radio system. So Collins radioed his dispatcher to contact the sheriff’s office by telephone, says the Austin American-Statesman. Those sorts of communications mishaps were common in Austin law enforcement in the 1990s. The lack of interoperable radio links between public safety agencies increased the risk of responding to emergency calls.
That sort of foul-up isn’t likely to happen today. The Austin Police Department is linked by a regional emergency radio network that also ties in the Travis County sheriff’s office, the Austin Fire Department, Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services and other emergency response agencies. Police, sheriff’s, fire department and other dispatchers work from a single high-tech building. Austin and Travis County are considered role models for how local governments can work together to build and operate public safety communications networks, but getting the work done took years of planning and negotiations.