delsa bush_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

WEST PALM BEACH — The former police chief of West Palm Beach is holding to her support for the controversial OpenSky radio system, despite reports of the equipment’s shortcomings.

The city has spent millions of dollars to establish the communication network for the police department but Mayor Jeri Muoio wants to walk away from the project.

Muoio wants the city to switch to the Project 25 — or P25 — radio system that several law enforcement agencies and municipalities use nationwide.

But retired Police Chief Delsa Bush said recently she still supports OpenSky, noting the city has already spent money on the system.

“I would hope that the system we have bought will come to fruition,” Bush said. “The public should have input on whether we abandon the (system).  Why abandon something you’ve already paid for?”

West Palm Beach has already invested $5 million in OpenSky and  would reportedly have to pay an additional $1.6 million for the radios.

Muoio said she does not have the exact costs for a possible  transition to P25 and the city is looking into it.

“We haven’t gotten the costs yet but the P25 is a state-of-the-art system that most public agencies use,” she said. “We are definitely going (to P25).  It’s just a matter of how we get there.”

In ditching the OpenSky system, West Palm Beach would also abandon a consortium of cities supporting its use, including Jupiter, Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens. The cost would fall on those municipalities, reportedly an additional $50,000 each annually.

Bush said the P25 is a basic digital radio system that also has its glitches and will need costly tests before it can be implemented.

“Digital is digital.  The P25 system is a standard radio system but you’re still going to have to do tests,” she said. “The P25 system has had many failures and challenges.”

According to the online site Police One, security flaws have been found in the P25 mobile radios.

“The researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that it was very easy to monitor sensitive law enforcement operations,” the site says. “Users either didn’t turn on their encryption or thought their transmissions were encrypted when they weren’t.”

According to that report on PoliceOne.Com, a $30 child’s toy could corrupt the radio’s signal enough to render the expensive equipment, as much as $3,295 each, useless.

Concerns with the OpenSky system include poor reception in high rises and lack of effective operation in densely populated areas.

“The system just doesn’t have the capacity (to handle) the density of West Palm Beach and the call volume,” Muoio said. 

“It’s just not the correct specification for our city.”

Bush, however, maintains that the problem with the OpenSky system is basically the thickness of the building, which other radio systems may also have difficulty penetrating.

Cities with similar population densities and building structures as West Palm Beach have been using the radio system successfully for years, she said.

“OpenSky system has been working in Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Beach, Jupiter and Juno, basically for two years,” Bush said. “Why can’t it work in West Palm Beach?”

Palm Beach Gardens Mayor David Levy confirmed that OpenSky has worked satisfactorily in his city for several years. “We’ve had no complaints from the police officers or the chief of police,” he said. “And we have some pretty big buildings.  The Landmark (condos) highrise is 17 stories and there are two 14-story buildings beside it.”

Levy said OpenSky has had a few problems, including once having difficulties communicating with a helicopter, but that was out of a couple of hundred calls.

He thinks West Palm Beach may be walking away from some benefits from sharing in the OpenSky system. “West Palm Beach is the largest city in the OpenSky consortium and (probably) has the most control of what the consortium does,” he said.

Photo: Police Chief Delsa Bush