Philadelphia’s relatively new $52 million police radio system went off the air for 20 to 40 minutes Tuesday night, leaving about 600 patrol officers without its electronic lifeline to headquarters, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The failure occurred as officers from all over the city were responding to repeated calls for help from police in a place where an officer was trying to break up a fight on the highway. The call for assistance went out three times.
Deputy Police Commissioner Charles Brennan attributed the crash to the influx of police cars from across the city that were dispatched to the case. “In order to talk to all the officers in the entire city, police radio uses a command in the radio system which… permits us to talk to all the officers on the street at the same time,” said Brennan, who disagreed with the FOP’s allegation that all frequencies went down. Invoking that command led to a series of glitches that forced the system into backup, causing more than half the frequencies to crash, Brennan said. Dispatchers “couldn’t get out to the people on the street, and the people on the street couldn’t talk to the radio consoles,” or dispatchers. “We still don’t know why this happened.”
After the blackout, there were sporadic problems with the radio system for two hours, said Robert Eddis, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. Eddis said he was aggravated that the police brass did not yet know the root cause of the problem or a similar instance about two months ago. On each occasion, he said, no viable backup system was in place. “Our worst nightmare was experienced [Tuesday] night,” said Eddis, who previously had limited his criticism of the administration of Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson. “There was a time that the radio went completely dead.”