Communication is the most basic aspect of police work and is critical in any emergency scenario, and authorities in Baraboo and Sauk County are looking to replace older equipment to maintain public safety.
Baraboo Police Chief Mark Schauf said his department has been replacing about three old radios each year since 2017. Doing so gradually helps ease the burden on taxpayers while maintaining compliance with Federal Communications Commission standards.
“They are a mechanical device. They will tend to fail,” Schauf said. “It’s just about what we can afford in the budget over time without making it a major capital issue.”
The Baraboo Police Department has six new handheld radios, which cost about $3,000 each.
Schauf said the department also has 34 older radios — some more than 10 years old — that eventually need to be replaced. Radios generally last between 10 and 15 years, he said.
Baraboo Police Lt. Ryan Labroscian said the newer handheld radios are lighter and less bulky than previous devices. Any upgrades are helpful for patrol officers in their daily duties, he said.
“Communication is obviously our job and many functions of that job to maintain public safety. It’s critical to what we do,” Labroscian said.
The Baraboo Police Department and several other agencies in Sauk County are dispatched by county authorities. Strategically located radio towers repeat signals and deliver them to various available channels for firefighters, police or EMS, Schauf said.
For example, in an emergency situation, Baraboo police officers will switch to their own repeater to reduce traffic on countywide channels. Schauf said about 100 people or more might access the countywide scanner at any time.
Sauk County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jeff Spencer said only one person can talk on a single channel at one time. This means officers conducting traffic stops have to wait their turn for radio silence to notify other authorities.
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“It can get pretty hectic, that one channel,” Spencer said.
While Spencer said the Sauk County Sheriff’s Office radios are functioning fine, finding replacement parts for outdated models becomes harder over time.
Most of the roughly 200 radio devices used by the Sauk County Sheriff’s Office were acquired through grant funding in the early 2000s, said Sauk County Communications Engineer Phil Raab. That includes all divisions such as court security, jail staff and patrol deputies.
The Sauk County Highway Department has about 160 radios of its own that need to be replaced when financially possible, Raab said.
Some newer radio models Raab said the county is looking to purchase range from $2,800 to $4,800 each. The cost depends on different features offered by each radio type.
To save costs down the road, Raab said county officials and authorities are working to determine an estimated total cost and send out bids to possible vendors. Seeking additional grants and rationing out annual budget funds also will save taxpayer dollars, he said.
“The idea is making it as painless as possible and not getting caught with a product that has a problem,” Raab said.
Whether responding to an emergency call or a life-or-death situation, Schauf said police officers require fully functional equipment to perform their duties and safeguard citizens.
“It’s basic life safety. It would be a true nightmare for us if an officer was in a life-threatening situation and they couldn’t communicate,” Schauf said. “It’s not only dangerous for our officers, but for the public as well.”