CLERMONT COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - For nearly four months, Miami Township's police force has dealt with "spotty service" with signal to and from the Clermont County Communications Center. The township lost the ability to reliably talk to 911 dispatchers in May, the day the county moved MTPD's 911 tower out of town.
Since the move, officers are resorting to using cell phones instead of emergency radios to talk to dispatchers and making traffic stops with no way to call for help if something happens.
On May 11, 2015, Clermont County allowed its communications contractor to disconnect its 911 system from a tower the county leased behind a community college on Buckwheat Road inside Miami Township to a new tower on Patricia Boulevard.
The old tower was a 400 feet high tower that held only county 911 equipment.
The contractor moved the county's 911 equipment to the Patricia Boulevard tower, 4 and a half miles away from Miami Township toward Goshen. The new site is a shorter tower and also houses cell phone equipment at the top, relegating the county's 911 equipment down the tower by several dozen feet.
The new tower location is also on lower ground. A FOX19 visit to the tower sites shows the old tower sits at 901 feet above sea level while the new tower is 835 feet above sea level.
The change in elevation along with a reduction in tower height took the county's 911 equipment from around 400 feet to around 320 feet off the ground.
Clermont County's Office of Management and Budget records show Miami Township pays the county for 911 dispatch service. In 2014, MTPD, MTFD and MTEMS paid a total of $168,875.18 to the county for 911 radio service.
Clermont County taxpayers spend $2.2 million each year for countywide 911 dispatch service.
The day the county switched towers on May 11, MTPD's had trouble talking to dispatchers ever since.
COPS KEYING UP ON PERSONAL CELL PHONES
"I think Miami Township residents deserve to have the radio capabilities they had prior to," MTPD Chief Sue Madsen told FOX19. The chief's spent dozens of hours since May on the radio problem, working with Motorola and the county to
figure out why her officers are dealing with "spotty coverage" across the township.
Since May 11, MTPD officers have used personal cell phones to make dispatch calls after their department-issued emergency radios would not reach 911 operators. It's something, the chief said, happens nearly every day on traffic stops, around town and in the middle of contentious domestic calls.
"We had a good tower here in Miami Township and May 11th, they moved away from that tower to another tower location," Madsen said, "that's when we started seeing trouble."
The trouble is in multiple spots across the township, but we agreed not to disclose those locations after the chief raised security concerns for her officers. In those locations, Madsen explained, her officers are often left with no reliable way to reach dispatchers.
Those officers are using their personal cell phones in lieu of police radios.
The township provided FOX19 a dash camera recording of a July 20 traffic stop where an officer stopped a speeder along Lower Lewis Road. In the video, you hear the officer attempting to radio dispatch with no response. The audio recording captures the officer making a cell phone call to a dispatcher, giving the location of the stop and running the tag number.
The location is no longer a concern for the township because two subsequent radio tests in the location of the July 20 stop were successful.
The operator asks the officer if he wanted a "checkup" call back to his cell phone to make sure the stop went down without a problem. The officer declined and later handed the driver a warning ticket.
"That was very concerning," Madsen said, "Very frustrated and I can see the frustration on the officer and you're dealing with someone on a traffic stop and you have no idea who they are."
Officers use the radio to have dispatchers run warrant checks on drivers and to see whether the vehicle is stolen or connected to a crime.
"Our officers all do not have their own cell phone, so what would he have used if he did not have his own cell phone?" Madsen said.
NEARING THE 120 DAY MARK
We wanted to see exactly what's happened since the May 11 changeover and the county's response to Miami Township's troubles with the new 911 system. We filed an open records request with the county, asking for all emails and documentation
between the county and MTPD.
The records show a police chief growing frustrated with the county over "substandard" radio signal inside the township. The emails detailed how the MTPD can't get a radio signal to 911 inside the department's headquarters building in
the center of town.
County Communications Director John Kiskaden met with the township on multiple occasions, trying to find a solution to the problem, the public records show. Kiskaden went to MTPD to gather information the day after the first complaint
was filed with his office by MTPD officers who could not radio dispatchers.
Kiskaden's also made several trips to MTPD to test signals across the township and led the effort to have the township's radios serviced by Motorola. Kiskaden did not have the authority to cast a vote to move the Miami Township tower
on May 11.
The email records show several meetings since, but no solution to putting an end to MTPD's radio trouble.
The last meeting between MTPD and the county happened August 19, attended by County Commission President Ed Humphrey. Humphrey was also on the committee that made the decision to approve moving the 911 equipment away from Miami Township
on May 11.
'I'M SORRY': COUNTY'S TOP ELECTED OFFICIAL REFUSES INTERVIEW
On August 17, FOX19 called Clermont County Commissioner Ed Humphrey's office, requesting an interview with him on the Miami Township 911 radio trouble. Humphrey did not return the call. A second call that afternoon was also not returned.
On August 19, we called Humphrey's office again, asking for the elected commissioner to return our calls. That evening, Humphrey returned the call.
"The situation has improved," Humphrey told FOX19 by phone on August 19, explaining that the county had sent several MTPD radios in to Motorola for "re-tuning" and that radios in the township "worked generally." When asked whether he'd
be available for an interview to explain to taxpayers where the project stood, Humphrey said, "I'm sorry, no."
Humphrey would not agree to meet at another time and stated he would not be doing any interviews on the matter, despite being the highest elected official on the committee that decided to move the tower.
We found Humphrey at a public meeting the next night where we took the opportunity to have him explain to taxpayers in Miami Township why their radio service was not where it was before May 11.
"I'm not ready right now, can we do this tomorrow," Humphrey asked as we approached him requesting information on the Miami Township 911 problem. Humphrey asked to make an appointment for the following day, after declining our interview
request the day before.
Humphrey told FOX19 he "needed to review his notes," from the meeting he had with MTPD the day before.
We asked Humphrey why the problem's continued since May, "It's a very rare occurrence and we've worked on that," Humphrey said.
MTPD's chief said she's ordered her officers to log forms with the county dispatch center every time they lose signal with dispatchers. That's happened "nearly daily," Madsen told FOX19.
Humphrey said the county's 911 system is "within spec," meaning Motorola guarantees 95 percent coverage for Clermont County, 98 percent of the time, Humphrey explained. Humphrey argued, the same specifications are in place in several other Ohio counties.
"So, county wide we did really well, unfortunately we didn't do so well for Miami Township," Humphrey said.
"There are thousands of calls made all the time that are working just fine. We're now seeing the errors because we're asking for them to try and fix them," Humphrey said.
Humphrey said the county had no other options aside from moving the Miami Township tower because it was "structurally unsound" and the county's communications contractor, MobilComm, would not pay to make the changes needed to bring the tower up to date. Given that, Humphrey said the county allowed the contractor to make the move to Patricia Boulevard.
A call to MobilComm's Sharonville offices was never returned.
"I think we're always going to have a few places it doesn't work, "Humphrey explained, "We have coverage in townships we didn't have; those officer are more safe. It's a matter of balance and that's where we're at."
"Other locations might have better coverage right now, but locations in Miami Township where we were able to communicate, after May 11th we're not able to—or it's spotty at best," MTPD Chief Sue Madsen said.
"We want to be where it was prior to May 11, or better," Madsen said.
Humphrey admitted, there's a chance Miami Township might never have the radio coverage it had before May 11, "We tried and we've looked at a number of other options and been unsuccessful so far," Humphrey said.
When FOX19 questioned Humphrey if this was something MTPD might have to deal with forever, Humphrey replied, "I don't know, we're going to work hard to see that they don't."
As of this report, Humphrey did not disclose any options afforded to Miami Township to address the radio trouble there.